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Thorpe now a gay icon

Sydney: Olympic swimming superstar Ian Thorpe is set to become a gay hero after rebutting rumours he is homosexual but saying he was flattered by the tag, a leading gay activist said here Monday.

Thorpe, 20, told ABC Radio Sunday that he believed people had labelled him homosexual because he was articulate, had an interest in fashion and did not resemble the stereotype of the macho Aussie bloke.

“You know I’m a little bit different to what most people would consider being an Australian male,” said the Olympic gold medallist. “That doesn’t make me gay.” But he added: “It’s the most flattering thing that anyone can ever say because if someone wants to label you or claim you as part of the minority group, it means you must have some strength in your character or in what you do.”

Marcus O’Donnell, editor of the gay newspaper Sydney Star Observer, said Thorpe’s straightforward response to the rumours would win him even more gay fans than he has already.

“There have been a lot of rumours and a lot of speculation about Thorpie and really he has hit the nail on the head — it’s because he doesn’t measure up to the typical macho Aussie sporting hero,” O’Donnell said.

He said speculation about sporting personalities’ sexuality was common because there was a lack of gay sporting role models, apart from a prominent Sydney rugby league player, Ian Roberts. “So when someone new comes along and he has some of what we read as the tell-tale signs — and he doesn’t have a girlfriend — then it is natural to start speculating.”

But he believed the “Ian Thorpe phenomenon” was a telling sign that old stereotypes were breaking down. “It’s perfectly cool now to be straight and have an interest in Armani fashion or pearl jewellery or Kylie Minogue, and why shouldn’t it be'” he said.

Thorpe believed the rumours began because he was in the limelight and perceived as different. “I think it’s because when I speak at engagements I try to speak as well as I possibly can,” he said.

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