As soon as it was announced that Ian Thorpe, one of the nation’s most beloved athletes, had granted a tell-all interview to Michael Parkinson, the internet began speculating as to what kinds of questions would be asked. There’s Thorpe’s injury, his ongoing battle with depression, and of course, the question of his sexuality.
Overnight, an ‘inside source’ at News Limited announced that Thorpe would be using his interview as a platform to come out as gay. Though Thorpe himself has been completely silent on the subject, fans and supporters on social media have rushed to congratulate him on his brave decision anyway, ahead of the actual interview.
Tonight, presumably, is Thorpe’s chance to tell his own story in his own words. In this live blog, we’ll be following along with his big interview from 6.00pm on Channel 10. Check back with us then for all the updates.
6:00: Going right for the heartstrings, we open with footage of a young Ian Thorpe being presented with a great big trophy at a swimming event in 1993. We see grainy footage of him setting world records at 15, as inspiring music plays. Parkinson reminds us that Ian Thorpe did for swimming what Donald Bradman did for cricket. Network Ten knows it’s on a winner here, and they’re going to pad this out as long as possible.
6:03: We open with a question about Ian’s general health. He’s still recovering from that shoulder injury, and has months of antibiotics and surgeries ahead of him. He says that he’s facing the possibility that he may never be able to raise his arm above his head, and therefore never swim again. “I went through a period where I loathed swimming and wanted nothing to do with it,” he says, but says that now, he’s determined to get back in the pool. If not, he’d consider mentoring – if not actually coaching – younger swimmers.
6:08: “I was a bit of a porky kid, and I didn’t take to the water instantly, but I enjoyed playing in it,” Thorpe says, speaking about his earliest experiences in the pool. He says he prefers to swim alone and “read the ripples”.
6:14: Parkinson moves on to Ian’s struggle with depression, which started in his teens. “I knew I was a little bit different,” he says. “There were times I just wasn’t happy. When I was younger, I didn’t have the words to explain it. There was a lethargy that followed me that I didn’t understand, and with all of those achievements, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t completely over the moon … this makes no sense.” He kept his depression from his family, his friends and his team, and by 19, was on antidepressant medication.
6:17: Thorpe says that his antidepressants kept him in a “safe area”, where he was safe from the worst thoughts that dogged him, but also struggled to feel happiness and elation. This was the point, he says, where he started self-medicating by drinking. “It’s something I was doing privately – I didn’t want to share my problems with people, I didn’t want anyone else to know I’m unhappy, because I’m living a dream life for an Australian. I should be having the time of my life, but I’m not.”
6:21: At his peak, Thorpe says that he would turn up to training hung over, and some days would struggle to get out of bed.
6:26: Parkinson asks Thorpe when he first contemplated suicide. “I believe there’s a difference in thinking about suicide and contemplating suicide,” Thorpe replies. “When you start setting yourself up for the circumstances when you’d do it, that’s contemplating.” Thorpe says he considered a method of killing himself, and even a note he might leave. “I couldn’t deal with leaving friends and family,” he says, of his decision to stay alive. “I couldn’t do it to them. That was the only thing that stopped me.”
6:31: We move on to Thorpe’s decision to quit swimming at 24, saying that he felt like “a performing seal.” He says that he struggled with success and the consequences that came with it. He says that, when the “peace” of his training routine was interrupted by media and photographers, it began to feel as if his swimming career no longer belonged to him. Reflecting on the decision, he says, he wishes he hadn’t quit, but says it’s what he needed at the time. “During my career, I could have won more medals,” he says.
6:33: We move on to the question of sexuality. Thorpe says that the questions started when he was 16. He takes a pause, and says that, while he was telling the truth when he said he had only been with women, in recent times, he realised “I’m not straight.” He says he only became comfortable discussing this with friends and family recently. “Within the last two weeks,” he tells Parkinson.
6:38: Thorpe says that he’s wanted to discuss his sexuality for some time, but didn’t feel as if he could. Attending an all-boys school, he said, was part of the problem. If you’re “accused of being gay” in such an environment, he says, “the first answer is no, then you get ready for a fight.” He slowly came to terms with his sexuality, but never spoke about it publically. “The lie became so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity,” he says. “A little bit of ego comes into it.”
6:42: “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man, and I don’t want young people to feel the same way I did.” He says he was fearful of the reaction his family and friends might have, and was relieved to find that his parents loved and supported him. “That’s usually what the answer is,” he says. “I could have lived a very different life if I’d been out,” he says sadly.
6:43: “I was trying to be what I thought was the right athlete by other people’s standards. I wanted to make people proud, I wanted to make my family proud, I wanted to make my nation proud. Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay.”
6:45: Even at this point, Thorpe seems to be blaming himself for his troubles, saying he’s made his sexuality a “bigger deal” than it needed to be, and his life would have been “easier” if he’d come out sooner. It’s so sad to hear him talk about his troubles in those terms.
6:50: Parkinson asks if there was “one main reason” Thorpe didn’t come out, but he says the reasons were many. “I heard a lot of homophobic things, I was subjected to homophobic insults in the street. People would call me a faggot and a poof.” He says he had to “manage” himself, not starting fights and getting in the papers. “If I had the chance to deck all those people, I’d be in jail by now.” Fuck.
6:52: “I’d recognise attractive men, but I’d never consider hooking up with them, because I was afraid of people finding out,” he says, of all the attractions he denied over the years. He says he feels “sorry” for all the people who hurled homophobic insults at him, but that it was still “painful”, and dragged him “further into the closet”. He became paranoid that close friends would be accused of being his lovers, like a 2009 photo of him and a mate in Brazil on holiday. He says he “loathes” his friends being dragged into this. “I’ve always tried to protect everyone else from what I’m doing.”
6:55: Once again, he says he’s “ashamed” that he didn’t come out sooner. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Joe Hildebrand is being a bit of a fuckwit.
Good on Thorpey for coming out as gay. Although if he really wanted to shock people he should’ve said that he was straight. #IanThorpe
— Joe Hildebrand (@Joe_Hildebrand) July 13, 2014
Brendan Maclean knows what’s up.
Playground of bullies telling a boy he’s gay. Boy goes through hell. Boy finally comes out. Bullies laugh at him because it was “obvious.”
— Brendan Maclean (@macleanbrendan) July 13, 2014
7:01: Parkinson asks Thorpe what he most dislikes about Australia. “The injustice that indigenous people face in Australia,” he says, talking about the ongoing crisis in indigenous health. “I want Australians to know that this is happening in our own backyard,” he says, saying that indigenous people in our country don’t have “the same access” to services.
7:05: Thorpe says he’s interested in politics, but that’s it. “It’s not for me now, but it may be in the future.”
7:06: He says that he’s looking for a long-term partner and a family. “I love kids. I have a wonderful nephew and a beautiful niece, and I’d like my own family.” He says with a laugh that he’s “a little bit closer” to this goal than before, now that he’s come out on TV and all. If Twitter today was any indication, Thorpe has a lot of prospective suitors.
7:12: It’s getting close to wrap-up time, and Parky is talking career highlights. Thorpe says that his first night at the Sydney 2000 Olympics was one of his proudest moments, when he swam to victory just a year after a terrible ankle injury. He says that the roar of the crowd before the 400m freestyle still sticks in his mind. “I couldn’t help but smile like a cheeky kid that’s just gotten in trouble,” he says. “That was the split second when I knew I was ready to race.”
7:15: “We had 10 to 20 people trying to help me get it on,” Thorpe says. Jeez, you guys, he’s talking about a swimsuit with a broken zipper. Get your minds out of the gutter. Thorpie and Parkinson both agree that his record-smashing first night at the Olympics was a pretty bloody special time.
7:26: Explaining the physical pain that comes after a race, Thorpe says that it’s different for sprints versus long distance swims, but the build-up of lactic acid becomes excruciating. “You have to navigate around yourself, to convince yourself to do what your body does not want to do naturally.”
7:29: Finally, we’re talking future plans. Thorpe says he loves television, and discovered a passion for live television at the London Olympics. He’ll be broadcasting throughout the upcoming Commonwealth Games. “I prefer the chair you’re sitting in, and I’d like to move into it one day” he says to Parkinson.
7:30: “Do you feel different now? Do you feel happier?” Parkinson asks. “Not yet. I think when this goes to air, when everyone sees this, I’ll be able to breathe out,” he replies. “That’s when I’ll be happy with this, when people have heard it from me.”
Photo: Quinn Rooney via Getty Images