Hold on to your swim caps, the man with size 17 feet is back.
Throughout his glittering career, Australian swimmer, Ian Thorpe, was unbeatable in the middle-distance freestyle races. Top to toe in his token black body-suit, he would appear to skim across the surface of the pool like some kind of Jesus bug. But bound by his commitments and burdened by the constant media spotlight he was propelled into retirement in 2006, deciding that it was time to spend some time out of the water.
Reports of Thorpe’s long-awaited return to swimming first surfaced last summer. It was only in February this year however, after 4 years of soul-searching, that Australia’s greatest ever Olympian made the announcement swimming fans worldwide had been waiting for and now, the Thorpedo is ready to fire again.
Catalyst for a comeback
Ian Thorpe declared that it had always been on his bucket list to swim at another Olympics before the age of 30, adding that he had not yet achieved everything he had wanted to in the pool. The 29 year old was inspired by the comeback of swimming veteran and previous team-mate, Geoff Huegill, at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year.
In a bid to test drive his rekindled enthusiasm, Thorpe assigned himself 3 days in the pool. 3 days became 3 weeks, 3 weeks became 3 months and a tour of London’s Olympic facilities finally tipped the balance. He loved what he saw in the capital’s iconic new complex and began speaking of a revived hunger to compete. He could taste gold and his decision to come out of retirement was made final. After a further 2 months of ‘secret’ training in 8 different pools around Sydney and at an undisclosed location in Switzerland, Ian Thorpe made his intentions clear to the press.
Now, with just 4 months remaining before the all-important Olympic trials, the Aussie is working hard in and out of the water. Previously a master of the 400m freestyle, Thorpe’s focus this time round will be at the opposite end of the spectrum, on the sprint relay events, an area in which he feels he can add most value to the Australian team. But making the Australian team will be half the battle, as his Russian coach, Touretski, jokily points out “It’s good news, to be the best in the world in sprint you only have to be the national champion of Australia”.
Impossible is Nothing
Any professional athlete will probably agree the motivation of money wears off very quickly. Thorpe’s comeback may not directly translate to a jet stream of Australian dollars, but at the end of the day, it is not about that. It is about an absolute commitment and that is something Thorpe has in abundance. ‘Impossible is Nothing’ is, quite fittingly, the slogan of Thorpe’s sponsors. Adidas will certainly be hoping their comeback kid can succeed in putting their motto to the test.
So what would represent success in 2012 for Ian? “To be able to swim faster than I used to be able to swim. My drive is for performance and that’s it”. He makes it sound easy, but we cannot underestimate just how steep a mountain Thorpe has to climb. His biggest challenge will be living up to history.
Sink or swim
Great comebacks always stir attention and Thorpe’s pursuit in the pool is no exception. The media are poised and ready to pounce, many anticipating that his decision will tarnish his legacy. But his legacy is already made. Boasting 5 Olympic golds, 11 World Championships and 18 World records, Thorpe is no regular athlete and if anyone can do this, it is him.
In the next few months, if you feel the ground shake, if you see the waters ripple, it is because there’s a Thorpedo coming and it’s heading straight for London. Whether he will be back in black is another question, as swim suit regulations have tightened significantly since Thorpe last competed. But, just as Lance Armstrong will stress that it’s not about the bike, Thorpe will agree that it’s what’s beneath the suit that matters.
The public will get a glimpse of the 29-year-old in race action, for the first time in over five years, at the Singapore round of the short course world cup next month. Until then, the weight of a nation’s expectations is probably only outweighed by that of his own. Gold in more ways than one, Thorpe is an extremely focused and dogged individual. Sports fans worldwide can only be thrilled he has regained his appetite for Olympic glory.
Does the Thorpedo have a chancce at regaining Olympic gold? Tell us what you think below.