Former Stanford gymnast Josh Dixon can't believe how much attitudes about gays in sports have changed since he was a freshman in 2008.

"It is such a huge change in the culture of sport and life in general," Dixon said Monday in the wake of fellow Stanford alum and NBA center Jason Collins' announcement that is he gay, the first male athlete in major American team sports to do so during his career.

Dixon, who grew up in San Jose and just missed making the 2012 Olympic team, could identify with Collins' decision to tell his story to Sports Illustrated.

Dixon, 23, came out publicly last summer just before the U.S. Olympic trials in his hometown. Another Stanford athlete -- former football player Kwame Harris -- came out in December.

Dixon cited those players as well as soccer star Robbie Rogers, who announced in February that he is gay, for helping spark a change of perception about gays in sports.

"I'm thinking more and more it is getting there," Dixon said of it becoming a tipping point. "Jason's not such a big name in the NBA but it is such a big enterprise."

Dixon had never heard of Collins before Monday. But he appreciates his openness. Dixon got lots of attention because he came out during an Olympic year. But NBA players have a much larger stage.

Dixon, who attended Willow Glen High-San Jose, is just starting to understand the significance of such announcements. He was so focused on trying to earn an Olympic spot the gymnast didn't have time to reflect on his actions.

Now he hopes statements from Collins and other stars will "help the next struggling closeted athlete coming out."

Dixon got encouragement from a Stanford swimmer that he dated. The swimmer had come out to his Cardinal teammates who accepted him. It gave Dixon the courage to do the same with the gymnastics team.

Dixon's only regret is waiting so long because of how much it freed him to focus on gymnastics. The seven-time All-American told teammates and friends during his senior year at Stanford in 2011. Without the added pressure he made his first senior national team and helped Stanford win an NCAA title that year.

Dixon hopes to continue representing the United States while training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"So much of you can focus on the task at hand instead of battling all the insecurities of hiding who you really are," Dixon said. "It allowed me to conquer than half the battle -- the mental challenges."

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.