Thorpie, please don’t squander your legacy
Is it a demonstration of what’s great about the Aussie spirit to keep doing something even after you find out for sure 20 people younger than you are better at it, and your Olympic hopes are dashed?
Ian Thorpe’s disappointing weekend in the pool, and what he said once he got out of the pool, has got me stumped. They guy is a great champion, and not just that, he seems like an incredibly decent person too.
He should be remembered not just for his incredible feats in competitive swimming, but for the way he behaved while he was under the white-hot glare of Australian expectations for all those years. You can’t fake good character for that long when you’re that young.
The goodwill buffer Thorpe built up with the Australian people over five Olympic gold medals, a slew of records, meaningful charity work and years of resisting any urge to turn into an arrogant little prat, is deep and cushiony.
When he called a press conference in February last year there was a lot of excited expectation about his comeback.
The press conference itself was a bit weird. Hosted by an airline, it came across as more of an infomercial than a sporting news event.
But news Thorpe was going to have a crack at London 2012 got a generally warm reception.
He said at the time if he didn’t think he was in good form he wouldn’t compete, so expectations this weekend in Adelaide were probably artificially inflated.
No one would have begrudged Thorpe having a go. If anyone deserved the chance to see what they could do at the ripe old age of 29 it was him.
And his legacy, as strong as it is, will not be permantly damaged by the fact he just didn’t pull it off.
But here’s where it gets murky.
After swimming the 21st fastest time in the 100 metre freestyle heats Thorpe said:
I hadn’t thought about it very much ... but I think now I’ll probably take a few days off and enjoy the competition and then sit down with a few people, Leigh Nugent and my coach Gennadi (Touretski) and work out what is next, work out what the next preparation will be and what competition will be next.
I’m still swimming. When I started this I wanted to get back in the pool, I wanted to race and I wanted to go to the Olympics. I still want to do all of those things. I’ve missed out on a huge goal ... but the desire is still there.
Perhaps when you’re competing at that level you genuinely cannot countenance failure, and Thorpe really hadn’t thought about what he would do next in the event of his comeback being a washout.
But seriously, if it didn’t work at 29, no amount of Swimming Australia’s money and Thorpe’s hard work is going to make it happen at 33 for the 2016 Rio games, no matter what head coach Leigh Nugent might say.
How many other young swimmers will have to join the group of 20 who are already faster than the man they no-doubt look up to before we stop throwing cash and hopes at him?
Thorpe’s talents, I’m sure, extend beyond rolling arm over arm up a lane. It would be a great shame to see him squander his special place in Australian sporting history and miss what could be the most productive years of his life.
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