Olympic hopeful Michael Gunning and his flatmate Harry Needs have addressed rumours that they are in a relationship.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the pair said they prepared themselves for speculation about the nature of their relationship when Needs, a former competitive swimmer who was married to Olympian Rebecca Adlington, came out as bisexual in June 2020.
Michael Gunning – who is hoping to represent Jamaica as a swimmer in the Olympic Games in Tokyo – said: “We thought people would run off and think that we were in a relationship.
“When two people come out in the ways we had done, and then if we’re living together, that’s just a thing. But we’re not! I couldn’t put up with him in a relationship!” Gunning joked.
Needs said they want to “break stereotypes” and prove to people that two queer men can live together and be best friends without being romantically or sexually involved.
Far too often, friendships like theirs are categorised as something they’re not, he said.
“You can be emotionally mature enough to live with your best friend and just want the best for one another,” Needs said.
Gunning added that stereotypes about queer people need to be broken down across the board, including in sport.
“There’s a pressure that’s put down on men to act in a certain way, to fit into this image of what a man should be like – especially an athlete as well. We’ve got to break away from that. We need our own identities, and to be known for ourselves rather than being that ‘masculine man’.”
Michael Gunning and Harry Needs spent an unhappy Christmas together
Elsewhere in the interview, Michael Gunning opened up about the heartbreaking moment he contracted COVID-19 just before Christmas, which resulted in Harry Needs being unable to see the daughter he co-parents with Rebecca Adlington over the festive period.
Gunning took a COVID test shortly before Christmas to make sure he was safe to travel, as he had been planning on visiting his family in Kent – but he was shocked when the test came back positive.
“We were so good. We didn’t go out, we stuck to the rules. The pools were open back then so I must have caught it at swimming, or something that I touched,” Gunning said.
“Everyone got tested around us and they were all fine. So, we stopped and isolated at home.”
He continued: “I really felt for Harry because no one wants to be taken away from their daughter at Christmas and I felt responsible for that.”
Needs subsequently tested positive for the virus, and both men developed symptoms of COVID-19. The experience took its toll on Gunning and Needs.
“We were very low, mental health-wise,” Needs said, “because of the sacrifices we were having to make to keep everyone else around us safe. I’m glad we have such a strong friendship; we would have struggled even more without that.”
Needs added: “I would urge people not to underestimate the virus – keep doing what the government are advising. If someone as fit as either of us can be affected, it shows you need to do the right thing.”