Former Team GB olympic athlete Matt Lister has spoken about his identity as a gay athlete.

In an interview with the Evening Standard Lister described the pressure he felt before he came out.

Whilst he never felt his sexuality defined him, the olympic athlete described how after coming out his performance in his sport improved.

“As an athlete you’re already in a really high stress environment – the reason I came out really was because I always felt like I had this little niggling voice in the back of my head like ‘you’re not quite being honest with yourself’.”

“When I was on the water I wasn’t truly being representative of myself and when I came out it lifted this enormous weight and this huge storm cloud I had a round me. I felt so much more comfortable on the water and my results were improving because of that.”

Since coming out Lister hasn’t thought of himself as a gay athlete. Instead he prefers to think of himself as an athlete who just happens to be gay.

“I never really thought of me as a gay athlete, I just thought of myself as an athlete and I was just me” Lister said. “Lots of people brand me as a gay athlete but to me I was just an athlete who was gay.”

The canoeist described the hooligan atmosphere surrounding competitive sports but boasted about the positive attitude within the athlete community. “It doesn’t matter who you are it just matters what you do with your sport,” he said.

Lister also believes more LGBT athletes should be pioneering the way for other LGBT people to show that being gay “is not a big deal.”

“From the actual athletes in the sport, I don’t think there’s that much of an issue with the athletes because everyone respects each other. It’s definitely something that the athletes who are LGBT should be pioneering the way for to show it’s really not a big deal – it’s just something that you are.”

Lister is now an LGBT ambassador for the Great Britain athletes commission and is heavily involved in Stonewall.

His comments come as LGBT rights organisation Stonewall latest study finds young people are twice as likely to say anti-LGBT language is harmless if it’s just meant as ‘banter’.