I once had the pleasure of seeing Ian Thorpe, the ‘Thorpedo’, swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. To use modern parlance, he ‘smashed it’. He was the biggest swimmer I’ve ever seen and he looked so completely effortless in the water – almost like he wasn’t trying. But he still managed to scoop six Golds and one silver medal including a world record in the 400m freestyle. Astonishing.
Lots has been written about the motives for his comeback. About his personal life, about his business interests, but ultimately I think Ian Thorpe just wants to see if he can still compete at the highest level. While I suspect he can’t, I am seriously hoping he can. After all he is still only 29 years old and in my opinion is a completely natural swimmer. Naively perhaps, I’d like to think that his natural skill in the water, and his astonishing physique (6 feet 7inches, size 17 feet), counts for something in an age where instense training has become everything.
And while today’s comeback swim in Singapore was perhaps less than amazing (second in his 100m IM heats in 56.74 secs, sixth fastest time for the finals) it wasn’t terrible. After all the 100m IM is an event he hasn’t competed in since he was 12 and he admitted that it was less than perfect. “I can’t remember the race at all. I remember starting and touching the wall. So I think there’s probably a lot of things I can do better in the final. But I’m happy. I’m really happy to get the first one out of the way. Now I’m able to focus on improving my swimming, rather than getting my first race back.”
There’s still plenty of room for improvement, of course, but if anyone can do it I think Ian Thorpe can. He may talk about expecting to fail, about not wanting to compete, but secretly I think he still wants to win. Let’s hope he is given the opportunity to compete in the London 2012 Olympics and complete the fairytale comeback that he is capable of.