IT MAY not be his primary motivation, but Ian Thorpe admits attending the royal wedding last month has only increased his hunger to complete a fairytale of his own when he returns to London next year for the Olympics.
Thorpe is back in training five years after hanging up his swimcap and aiming to add to his five gold medals at the Games, where it is hoped he will face the man who has replaced him as the world’s greatest, Michael Phelps. The Australian, 29, believes he can still beat the best, insists he is back in the pool because he loves it rather than for any reward, and cannot wait to compete in London’s new aquatic centre. On top of that, Thorpe, who was invited to the royal wedding by his friend Prince William, says the extravagance of that occasion has whetted his appetite for London 2012.
“It was unbelievable, a surreal experience. I’ve never seen London like it. Now I’ve seen how you do a wedding I’m interested in how you do an Olympics,” joked Thorpe, who was in Hackney yesterday to open an outdoor gym for his sponsors Adidas.
London is a recurring theme in his return. It was on a flight here last autumn that he realised, albeit reluctantly, that he yearned to swim again. “I’d thought about it before but usually shut myself down in 10 seconds,” he says. “I had every answer why I didn’t want to do it. Then I was flying from Chicago to London and thought about it; the answers I had weren’t that good this time. So I made a decision to start swimming. I actually went and saw someone to try and convince me not to do it – that didn’t work – so I started training.”
Thorpe gave himself three months to prove to himself he could get back to his best; after two he knew he could. He is improving but still short, admitting he wouldn’t be ready if he were competing in July’s world championships. He doesn’t like adding to the hype surrounding a contest with Phelps in the 200m freestyle, the event they share, and gushes about Michael Schumacher for returning to Formula One on his own terms.
“I’m glad I’m swimming again and enjoying it,” he says. “When we have heroes in sport we want them to retain that glimmer and want to take ownership of their performances, and we forget that person enjoys what they do. People talk about Schumacher. I look at him and clearly he enjoys what he’s doing and although the result hasn’t been what people expected, I have tremendous admiration that he continues.”
He plans to swim on beyond London 2012 regardless of his success but admits he is putting a legacy as one of sport’s all-time greats at stake. “If I look at it from a career point of view, it’s probably a terrible thing to do,” he says. “But it’s a decision that comes from the heart, not the head.”
Ian Thorpe was speaking at the Hackney adiZone, one of 50 outdoor multi-sport giant gyms that have been installed across the UK?by London 2012 sponsor adidas. The adiZone project aims to get more people active and is a true sporting legacy of the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.