‘I can’t feel the water on my fingers anymore’


An extremely interesting article here on Zwemza, on when and why Ian Thorpe decided quit and on what he thinks we should to for our athletes

After a long stint away from the prying eyes of the Australian media, including a much-publicised training stint in Los Angeles, Ian Thorpe is preparing to return to Australia-based training for a possible tilt at the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne.

Thorpe thinks the pool is his little secret but is blindsided by what he encounters.

“I was ready to go, and there was this crowd of media and paparazzi at the pool. I love training, but I need privacy around it,” he tells The Weekend Australian more than a decade later, during an unusually candid and in-depth series of interviews.
The chaotic media scene drives Thorpe over the edge: “I said to myself, ‘That’s the final straw. If you’re not prepared to give me that, it’s over.’ ”

The next day, Thorpe shocks the nation by announcing that not only will he not swim at the world championships, he will not swim again at all.


More than 11 years on, Thorpe, now 35, believes that with the helicopter view of hindsight on his ­career, he has finally gained an understanding of why his time in the pool came to such an abrupt end.

As the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games loom, he also thinks he has the answer to why many other elite athletes in Australia are not achieving their ­potential.

He is proposing a breakthrough elite mentoring program under the auspices of the Australian Sports Commission, using a community of Australian sport’s biggest names — Tim Cahill, Cathy Freeman, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Steve Smith and himself, for example — as a community of mentors across all sports to help high-performing athletes.

Thorpe wants no elite Australian athlete to feel the same isolation and helplessness he felt when he ended his career: “The whole external infrastructure is there, from psychologists to physiotherapists to physiologists, dietitians and the latest technology and data collection on performance. But for some of our top athletes, the inside game is under-utilised.”

With respect to that “inside game”, Thorpe believes that many athletes are underprepared for everything from the pressure of favouritism to the massive media scrutiny around their performance in big events.


Thorpe believes a new era is emerging when sports around the globe need to raise the bar on the duty of care they provide to ­athletes.

Endemic issues are emerging that show athletes are not coping with the pressures of professional sport: with mental health issues, disabling behaviours and a lack of coping capabilities.

All can lead to athletic under­achievement and problems ­out­side of sport: “Sports adminis­trators and funding bodies want elite athletes to deliver world-beating performances, but their support for athletes has not kept pace with the demands they are making. This is creating a sense of unprecedented pressure and isolation for athletes, and the results are there for all to see. There is the need for a total mindset change.”

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Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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