Ian James Thorpe was born on the 13th of October, 1982 in Sydney, Australia. In his lifetimes career he has won a total of five Olympic golds and eleven World Championship golds. No other Australian athlete has won more Olympic gold medals and his World Championship haul puts him in second place for swimming. His other unique accolade is that Swimming World International magazine has nominated him as World Swimmer of the Year four times.
A new champion on the scene
Ian Thorpe was born into a sporting family. His father, Ken was a cricketer whose seasonal batting averages once exceeded those of Australian Captain Bob Simpson. Ian’s mother meanwhile was a talented netball player. As such, his ball sport enthusiast parents likely had other plans for their son, who began swimming somewhat accidentally. His sister was prescribed swimming lessons as part of a wrist rehabilitation programme and a five year old Ian wanted to tag along. Despite early problems with an allergy to chlorine, Ian persevered in his swimming lessons and won the fist race he ever entered – even though he had to swim with his face out of the water due to the allergy. He had been a large baby and a tall child, in swimming this really pit him ahead of the competition and he continued to make striking debuts as his he advanced in age. In primary school he was made a swimming captain and when he graduated to secondary school in 1995 he won the National Championships for his age group, obtaining bronze in freestyle at 200 and 400 metres. His sister also continued her swimming career competing at the Atlanta Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in the same year.
National and International debut
One year later in 1996, Ian Thorpe returned from his Age Group Nationals with a far more impressive haul. He took home two bronze, two silver and five gold medals and his performance in the 200 and 400 metre backstroke qualified him for the National Championships, selection events for the 1996 Olympics which were to be held in Atlanta. This would have seen Thorpe in the Olympic team at 13 years and 6 months old. Perhaps luckily it did not happen but when he did make the Australian team less than a year later, he was the youngest ever to have done so at 14 and 5 months of age. In 1998, Ian Thorpe became the youngest ever male World Champion when he won the 400 metre freestyle in the Perth World Championships. This set a precedent which would see him dominating the 400 metre event for a further 6 years, until his career break in 2004.
Early peak and early retirement
Thorpe’s meteoric rise waned somewhat as he found himself beset by problems and unwanted media attention. During the 2004 Australian Championships, held in Sydney he was disqualified from the 400 metre event due to overbalancing on his starting block and causing a false start. Despite losing the opportunity to defend his 400 metre title and the negative media attention that came with it, he won both the 100 and 200 metre events, thereby qualifying for the Athens Summer Olympics. The Summer Olympics was an emotive event for Thorpe, as he lost out to long time rival Grant Hackett in the 400 metre event. This was an event and a rivalry which had received a huge build up in the media who alleged that Thorpe cried at the result. Ian strongly denies crying at the event. However he more than made up for his loss when in the 200 metre event he won by half a body length, crushing Van den Hoogenband with a new Olympic record of 1 minute 47.71 seconds. An ecstatic Thorpe tore of his swim cap and punched the air.
This was to be perhaps his greatest sporting moment as he then decided upon a years break from competitive swimming. Upon his return he was plagued by bronchitis, a broken hand and allegations of ill discipline. In 2006 Ian Thorpe decided to retire from competitive swimming forever, citing a lack of motivation as the reason. During his career he was a celebrated national hero in his own and many other countries. The president of the Australian National Committee, John Coates named Ian Thorpe as the greatest middle-distance swimmer of all time and stated that “in 50 years Australians will still marvel at the feats of Ian Thorpe”.