Former Australia swimming coach Ian Pope says the star swimmer quit prematurely as he struggled to deal with his over-popularity
Melbourne: Ian Thorpe is easily Australia’s greatest swimmer ever. But he might have paid the price of his popularity by having to end his career prematurely, says former Australian swimming coach and head coach of Victoria, Ian Pope.
Ian Thorpe of Australia. PIC/Getty Images
Pope should know. He was by Thorpe’s side as one of Team Australia’s coaches during the star swimmer’s triple gold medal-winning feat at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Thorpe, now 32, won three gold (400m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay) and two silver (200m freestyle & 4x100m medley) to become the most successful athlete at the 2000 Olympics.
Thorpe went on to win two more gold at Athens 2004 (200m freestyle & 400m freestyle) after which his career spiralled downwards.
“Thorpe came through in the late 90s from Sydney in New South Wales at a very young age. He was breaking world records left right and centre and it was front page news. He changed the profile of swimming in Australia.
“Anything and everything Thorpe did, became popular. Even when he announced that he was gay (2014), it made global headlines. I remember once I went to a film theatre with him and on the way back while we were walking through a shopping centre, everybody just kept stopping and staring at him. I think Ian struggled to have his own personal space because of his popularity. That impacted him, and I felt sorry for him,” Pope told mid-day at the Melbourne Aquatics Centre.
Reports suggested that when Thorpe retired from the pool in his mid-20s, it was due to the gay burden he was carrying that affected him mentally. However, coach Pope was not too sure.
“No one was ever sure really. Sometimes you might assume things but no one knew for sure what it was. It (the gay revelation) was a bit of a surprise though,” said Pope, adding that the swimmer was blessed with natural ability clubbed with a physical advantage too.
Former Australia swimming coach and Victoria head coach Ian Pope at the Melbourne Aquatic Centre. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
“Ian has massive size 17 feet, so that was a huge advantage for him. It was like as though he was swimming with flippers. Then, he was six-foot-four and that only enhanced his ability in water.”
Grand Hackett, was another superstar Australian swimmer, who shared the pool with Thorpe in his heydays.
Hackett won two golds at Sydney 2000 and one at Athens 2004. He was trained by Pope, but the coach admitted that comparatively ‘Thorpedo’ was simply brilliant.
Best of the lot
“Hackett was a fine swimmer, the best to have emerged from Melbourne. He was No 1 for 10 years. But whenever the he and Ian went head to head in training, Ian would just about do everything possible to beat him.
“I saw Ian do some really impressive things in the pool. He was always better that everybody else,” said Pope.