Ian Thorpe, who quit competitive swimming in 2006 with nine Olympic medals, is making a comeback to try to compete at his third Summer Games in London next year.
Thorpe, 28, said he’s willing to tolerate public intrusion into his life, which made him reject the sport four years ago, in his bid for Olympic success. He’ll train mostly in Abu Dhabi and focus on the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle events, with a priority on the shorter distance, he said at a televised news conference today.
“I’ve realized how much fire and passion I have and how much I love performing,” Thorpe said. “It hasn’t been something I’ve taken lightly in making a decision. I want to deliver the best result for Australia.”
Known as “Thorpedo,” the swimmer retired in November 2006 at the age of 24, saying he had lost the desire to compete. He said he changed his mind after recognizing his need to race and watching the success of swimmer Geoff Huegill, who shed a third of his bodyweight to come out of retirement and win gold at the Commonwealth Games last year.
Having declared his intentions to swimming’s international governing body, Thorpe should be free to compete in nine months. He said he probably doesn’t have time to get in shape for longer races, such as the 400 meters freestyle, which he won at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Thorpe needed to officially announce his return by the end of May because international rules required him to be registered for anti-doping tests at least nine months before Olympic trials in March 2012.
His first race may be overseas at a World Cup event in November, Swimming Australia said in a statement, welcoming Thorpe back to competition.
“Ian looks to be in pretty good shape,” said National Head Coach Leigh Nugent, who has given Thorpe training programs for the past two months. “Now that he’s confirmed his intention to compete, we can really increase his training.”
Today’s announcement follows an elaborate ruse to hide Thorpe’s true intentions. The swimmer has been visiting eight different pools to conceal his mounting training regime and had told friends to deny in public his plans.
‘Lying Through Teeth’
“I’ve told everyone else around me to lie through their teeth, to be able to give me the space to make this decision,” he said. “I’m returning to competitive swimming slightly more mature. I’m on track to be an elite swimmer again.”
Thorpe last raced at a major meet at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where he won two golds, one silver and one bronze to lift his Olympic medal tally to nine, an Australian record. He also captured 11 world championship titles and 10 golds at the Commonwealth Games.
Thorpe’s success in the pool helped make him the world’s highest-profile swimmer until the arrival of record 14-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps. Thorpe had a portfolio of sponsors including Adidas AG, Swatch Group AG’s Omega brand and So Natural Foods Ltd. before quitting.
He told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in February last year that he had suffered cashflow problems after shedding endorsement deals to focus on his university studies, though had received help from his bank to restructure his finances. At today’s press conference, he denied he was returning to the pool for financial reasons.
Sydney-born Thorpe, powered through the water with size 17 feet, rose to prominence at the 2000 Sydney Games when he won three golds and two silvers. His gold medals in Athens helped him surpass runner Betty Cuthbert and swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose as the most successful Australian in Olympic history.
The last of his world records fell at the 2009 World Swimming Championships in Rome when Germany’s Paul Biedermann set a new 400-meter freestyle mark with a time of 3:40.07, beating Thorpe’s swim at the 2002 Commonwealth Games by 0.01 second.
“The thing that is driving me is to be able to perform again,” he said. “I’ve never not liked swimming.”