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Australian champion swimmer Ian Thorpe cold have made a greater impact had he came out to admit his being gay when he was still competing, American fellow Olympic medalist Mark Spitz said on Tuesday.
"You can imagine the emotional thing that he had to go through over the years to suppress that ... If he didn't have to do that what would his records have been? If he didn't have to worry about things like that he may have been more focused. To me, it could only have been a more positive experience," The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Spitz, who collected seven gold swimming medals at the 1972 Olympics.
Thorpe won nine medals, including five gold medals, and is considered Australia's greatest Olympian. But Spitz believes he could have achieved more had he came out earlier. The 31-year-old swimmer outed himself on TV on Sunday because he was tired of living a lie, which contributed to his depression.
In 2012, Thorpe even signed a deal for his memoir, titled This is Me, wherein he stated for the record that he was not gay.
"I'm ashamed I didn't come out earlier because I didn't have the courage to do it. I don't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay," he said.
Deidre Anderson, a sports psychologist and long-time mentor of Thorpe, said that the emotional crisis the swimmer went through caused his premature retirement from the sport in 2006. He came out to close friends, including Anderson, in June.
According to Fairfax Media, one of the reasons behind Thorpe's delayed coming out, which he planned before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, is the fear of losing sponsorship and marketing deals with large Aussie firms such as Qantas, Omega and Telstra.
Anderson added, "I think it's all part of him getting to a point in his life where he wants to live his life. He has been living everybody else's life for so long. I think it is a wonderful step towards finding some happiness."
Max Markson, an agent for celebrities, however, believes that Thorpe's public admission that he is gay would only improve his marketability. Spitz added, "It may have been the reason why he was so good, that the pain he suffered was channeled into becoming one of the best athletes in the world."