Australian diver Matthew Mitcham has hailed Ian Thorpe’s decision to come out as gay.

Thorpe, a five-time Olympic gold medallist, revealed today in an interview with Michael Parkinson that despite previous denials, he is gay.

Mitcham, 26, who came out himself in 2008, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Thorpe could be the first in a chain of high-profile gay athletes.

He said: “We need high-profile gay athletes, to prove the stereotype wrong

“Thorpe is about as high-profile as it gets. He’s very influential, I think he has the potential to influence a lot of people, and how people react to it.”

“There is no precedent, not on this scale. It must have been a very harrowing ordeal.”

“[It’s harder to come out] with people asking continuously, especially when you’re just not ready.

“[For athletes in their teens], it’s too young to make a choice, you’re not going to come out and say something that you haven’t decided on.”

“It took him 15 years to change his answer [to the question of his sexuality], which is a perfect indicator of his struggle.”

Mitcham became the first openly gay man in modern history to win an Olympic gold medal in 2008.

During his career, Thorpe won nine Olympic medals – five gold, three silver, one bronze – in addition to 11 World Championship titles, and 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals.