Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer feels free and fast after coming out

Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer smiles and waves after winning the Men's 200 Free at the 2019 Canadian Swimming Trials in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Fear of the unknown was holding Markus Thormeyer back in the pool.

When the Canadian swimmer told teammates he was gay, the walls he’d built up came down and Thormeyer felt liberated to swim fast.

The feeling propelled him onto Canada’s 2016 Olympic swim team in Rio.

The 22-year-old from Delta, B.C., recently wrote about coming out for Outsports.com.

Thormeyer and dozens of swimmers from across the country would have begun competing for the 2020 Olympic team Monday at trials in Toronto.

But trials are on hold because of COVID-19, which has also postponed the Summer Olympics to 2021.

His sexuality known to friends and teammates, Thormeyer began writing a draft about coming out just prior to him winning a bronze medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"The story is about how I was struggling," Thormeyer told The Canadian Press. "Struggling, but then I got out of it through coming out and finding support.

"If I’m able to help anyone else out who is going through a similar thing, give someone hope or inspire anyone, literally anyone, I would be happy."

Thormeyer was in a training group of a dozen swimmers in Vancouver in 2015. Gruelling twice-a-day workouts and swimming to exhaustion expose an athlete’s character to others.

How his teammates might react to him coming out was a distraction for Thormeyer, however. Social conversations felt like a minefield.

"Before I told them, leading up to that, I’d been in my head about it the whole time," he explained.

"When everyone is working so hard and you experience your lowest lows and your highest highs, being able to do that with them and see these people for exactly who they are as a person, kind of gave me the courage to step out of my head and the ‘what if they don’t like me?’ Strip myself bare in that sense. Be vulnerable."

During a conversation about relationships, Thormeyer spoke of his nervousness about going on a date with a man for the first time.

He says his teammates responded without judgment and told him to be himself.

"When you come out, you don’t have to hide anything," Thormeyer said. "You don’t have to feel like you’re acting, you don’t have to feel guilty about not telling people. This felt like a weight lifted off my chest and I could breathe and relax.

"I’m just a big believer in a happy swimmer swims fast. Once I could enjoy being me, I could also enjoy my swimming. When I enjoyed my swimming, I swam faster."

Men’s 100m backstroke final bronze medalist Canada’s Markus Thormeyer reacts on the podium at the Aquatic Centre during the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. (Rick Rycroft/AP)

The national record-holder in the 200-metre and 100-metre backstroke won gold and bronze in those distances respectively in January’s Champion Swim Series event in China.

Thormeyer placed eighth in the 200 metres in last year’s world championship. He swam the third leg for the men’s relay team that placed seventh in Rio.

His account of coming out was posted by Outsports.com in February.

The environmental science student at the University of British Columbia hopes it can help anyone experiencing the same feelings he did four years ago.

"It took me four years of maturing myself, just living life, experiencing things and doing self-exploration before I could put it into words properly in a way that I’d be proud of showing people, something that I know is true to me and could have a positive impact on other people," Thormeyer explained.

He and Canada’s other Olympic hopefuls had just begun tapering for trials earlier this month when COVID-19 closed their pools and dryland training facilities.

"I guess I am curious about how the next couple months are going to play out, but I’m not worried about it or anything," Thormeyer said.

"I try and adapt and make the best of it. If I just keep my head and live life, that’s all I can do."

Swimming Canada was evaluating contingency plans that included holding trials in June, but said in a release Friday "in light of the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, those plans are no longer necessary and the trials remain suspended until new timing can be determined."

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