Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe said he’s come to terms with the possibility of failing in his bid to swim at this year’s London Games.
Australia’s most successful Olympic athlete is trying to qualify for a spot in London after coming out of a five-year retirement from swimming in November. He’s competing in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle events at the weeklong selection trials, which start tomorrow in Adelaide.
“I’m not sure how fast I can go,” Thorpe, 29, said at a televised news conference. “Like most of the athletes here, I’m nervous about the upcoming days.”
Thorpe last raced at a major meet in January 2006 at the Australian Commonwealth Games trials, 17 months after winning two golds, one silver and one bronze in Athens to lift his Olympic medal tally to a national-record nine.
After announcing his comeback 13 months ago, Thorpe wasn’t eligible to compete again until November. His times so far have been below what may be required for an Olympic spot.
Australia’s policy is to pick the top two swimmers from each event at the trials, with a top-six finish in the 100-meter or 200-meter freestyle securing a place on the relay squad.
While Thorpe holds the national record for the 200-meter freestyle, his career-best of 48.56 seconds in the 100 meters is the ninth-fastest by an Australian. His best time at the distance since his return is 50.84. Twenty six men enter the trials having gone quicker.
Backed by Bettors
His best 200 meters of 1 minute, 50.79 seconds in January is the joint 21st quickest by an Australian in the past 12 months. Local bookmaker TAB Sportsbet said today that Thorpe’s odds of qualifying had shortened to 2-1 from 5-1 following backing from bettors.
“Plenty of people are giving him no chance to be on the plane to London, but we are not prepared to go that far,” said TAB Sportsbet spokesman Matt Jenkins. “His times are not flash, but he may just have something up his sleeve.”
Thorpe denied suggestions in Australian newspapers this week that he’s deliberately logged slow times to minimize the pressure on him.
“There may have been a period when I first started back in swimming when I was hoping that I might be able to do it,” Thorpe said at the news conference. “Unfortunately I haven’t had that luxury.”
Thorpe rose to prominence at the 2000 Olympics in his hometown of Sydney, where he won three golds and two silvers. His victories in Athens took him past track athlete Betty Cuthbert and swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose as Australia’s top gold-medal winner.
He retired in November 2006 at the age of 24, saying he had lost the desire to compete. Since changing his mind, he has been working in Switzerland with Gennadi Touretski, the Russian coach who guided Alex Popov to the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Qualifying for London would match his achievement in making his first Olympic team 12 years ago, Thorpe said.
“That’s the real lure that I have,” he said. “Kind of approaching this and feeling like it’s almost my first time at these things. There’s a freshness that comes with that.”