British former Olympic swimmer and world champion Mark Foster has revealed that he is gay in an interview with The Guardian.
The athlete, who competed primarily in butterfly and freestyle, is not only well known for his successful swimming career but also as a TV commentator, presenter and personality.
“I’ve just swerved and swerved. Telling half-truths and not being my true self is only hurting me,” he said. “I’m 47, a middle-aged man, and I’m no longer competing. And I’m not the first gay sportsman to come out. Gareth Thomas and Tom Daley led the way.”
Foster explained that while he had lived as an openly gay man to his friends and family, and had two long term relationships, he had hidden his true sexuality in public as a swimmer.
“I tiptoed around the issue for so long. I got really good at the dance of telling half-truths,” he said. “At the Sochi Olympics [in 2014] I did a piece for Huffington Post. I was shocked by the treatment of gay people in Russia and needed to say something – without revealing anything about myself. So I half-said something. It’s always been half-truths in public.”
Foster admitted that he feared coming out because it might have affected his swimming career and his livelihood. “I was worried about how coming out might affect my work. My swim schools cater for children and there’s this insidious perception that gay equals paedophile/child molester. I never want to be perceived as being a threat to children.”
Foster said he in part chose to come out because of the death of his father in June. “He knew I was gay but we never talked much. I kick myself because there were so many things I wanted to know because Mum and Dad split when I was 11. We had so many things we never shared. I now want to share my feelings.”
During his career, Foster won six World Championship titles, two Commonwealth titles and eleven European titles but never won an Olympic medal. He admitted that, in hindsight, being in the closet may have negatively affected his career.
“…when you’ve spent your whole life shying away from scrutiny it must have some impact,” Foster said. “I’ve lost races and broken world records by 100ths of seconds. I’m not saying I would’ve won the Olympics but, if I wasn’t subconsciously processing all this stuff, I would have achieved more.”
Photo of Mark Foster by Nick J Webb.