Thorpe thanks fans after coming out

Lancaster And Morecambe Citizen: Ian Thorpe came out during a television interview Ian Thorpe came out during a television interview

Swimming champion Ian Thorpe has thanked supporters after he announced he is gay.

The Australian sports star came out during a television interview with Sir Michael Parkinson after having long faced questions about his sexual orientation.

After receiving an outpouring of support, the athlete - known as the Thorpedo - said today: " To everyone who has sent a message of support I sincerely thank you!"

The five-time Olympic gold medal winner had previously denied being gay, saying his relationships have been with women.

But speaking to Parkinson on Australia's Channel 10, he admitted the real story is different.

Football pundit Gary Lineker described his decision as "brave".

The former England striker said: "Well done @IanThorpe on your 'coming out'. Look, mate, it was a brave and right decision. Good luck to you."

Former Wales star Gareth Thomas, who became the first openly gay professional rugby union player when he came out in 2009, also said on Twitter: " Never question it. Support it. A happy man today."

In the televised interview, Thorpe said he did not want young people to feel the same way he had and admitted the "lie had become so big that I didn't want people to question my integrity".

"I've thought about this for a long time. I'm not straight," he told Parkinson.

"And this is only something that very recently - in the past two weeks - I've been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that.

"I don't want young people to feel the same way I did. I've wanted to for some time. I couldn't, I didn't feel as though I could.

"The problem was I was asked at such a young age about my sexuality. I went to an all-boys school, so if you're accused of being gay then the first answer is 'no' and you get ready for a fight.

"Yes, I lied about it. I'm comfortable saying I'm a gay man. My parents told me that they love me and that they support me.

"Part of me didn't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay. But I'm telling the world that I am."

Thorpe's personal life has been more prominent than his professional one over recent years.

In his 2011 autobiography, This Is Me, he wrote of a battle with depression and his reliance on alcohol.

He added to Parkinson that only the love of his family had stopped him from suicide.

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