MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Ian Thorpe, Australia's most decorated Olympian, revealed he was gay in an emotional television interview on Sunday, ending years of speculation about the champion swimmer's sexuality.
The five-time Olympic gold medallist made the admission to British journalist Michael Parkinson in a pre-recorded interview broadcast on Australia's Channel 10.
"I've thought about this for a long time. I'm not straight," Thorpe said, struggling to hold tears back. "And this is only something that very recently, we're talking the past two weeks, I've been comfortable telling the closest people around me, exactly that.
"I've wanted to (come out) for some time but I couldn't, I didn't feel as though I could.
"What happened was I felt the lie had become so big that I didn't want people to question my integrity."
Thorpe had long denied he was gay and wrote in his 2012 autobiography This Is Me that he was heterosexual.
"For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight," Thorpe wrote in the book. "I'm attracted to women, I love children and aspire to have a family one day.
"I know what it's like to grow up and be told what your sexuality is, then realising that it's not the full reality. I was accused of being gay before I knew who I was."
Thorpe said constant questions about his sexuality, starting from the age of 16, had contributed to guarding his personal life. He had also been discouraged by homophobic taunts from the public.
However, he admitted a big part of his reticence was that he was troubled that revealing he was gay would not fit into his image as "Australia's champion".
"I was trying to be what I thought was the right athlete by other people's standards. I wanted to make my family proud, I wanted to make my nation proud," he said. "Part of me didn't know if Australia wanted it's champion to be gay.
"I hope it makes this easier for others now. Even if you hold it in for years, it feels better to lift this and get out.
"People will criticise me, some people won't like the idea other people may applaud me for it, but it's me."
Thorpe has had a torrid past 12 months, battling depression, a stint in rehab and an infection he contracted following shoulder surgery that required treatment in hospital in April.
At the time, his agent said he was unlikely to swim competitively again.
Thorpe said that his shoulder was still "broken" and that his swimming career remained in doubt.
"I had a tremendous reality check... that I have to be realistic with my expectations... that I may never swim again," he said. "It's tough because I want to be able to swim again."
Earlier this year, he was admitted to hospital to treat depression after he was found disoriented in Sydney.
Police were called when a resident saw Thorpe behaving oddly near a vehicle and his manager James Erskine later said he had been taking a mixture of anti-depressants and medication for his shoulder.
Thorpe shot to fame as a 15-year-old when he won the 400 metres freestyle title at the 1998 World Championship in Perth, becoming the youngest individual male champion.
He went on to win three golds in his Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Games and clinched another two at Athens four years later, but surprisingly announced his retirement in 2006 at the age of 24, citing a lack of motivation.
He announced he would return to the pool in 2011 in a bid to qualify for the London Games but he flopped at national trials the following year and failed to make the team in either of his targeted 100 and 200 metres freestyle events.