The Inner Battle Swimming Star Ian Thorpe Fights | Legends Live On

February 18, 2020

Thorpie’s the most well-known
swimmer in Australia. Everyone knows Ian Thorpe
and what he achieved. Well, he was just one of the
greatest sporting sensations in Australian history. He had this aura, you know,
around him. I think the full suit really
kind of added to that aura. People forget that he was in the spotlight, the media
spotlight, from the age of 13 or 14. For someone who has experienced
the kind of euphoria that you have with
winning Olympic gold, to realise that you can go
equally low is a horrible thing. Ian Thorpe. To listen to what he cared
about, that’s what’s more
inspiring for other people. I think Ian made that so
evident in his fight for equality. (LEGENDS LIVE ON
IAN THORPE) You want to be that confident
person that’s out there, that’s kind of, you know,
faultless, that’s flawless. The performance is great, and let’s just give you
that snapshot of, and leave it at that, which is not really where
athletes are. We’re far from being, you know,
these perfect human specimens. We have all of the same
frailties, if not more, than the rest of society have, and they’re probably amplified
because of what we do. I only started swimming because
I got bored being dragged along to swimming carnivals
that my sister was at. So I decided I’d start doing
a couple of lessons a week. When I first swam, I used to swim with my head out of the
water, because the chlorine
used to hurt my nose, and then I found out that
I was allergic to chlorine. So although, like, everyone’s
like, “Oh you’re a natural in
the pool,” it’s, like, well, not really. And the funny thing about that
is, they asked my mum at the time, “Look, if you think your son’s
going to be a champion swimmer, “you can have his adenoids
in his nose removed, “and he won’t have
as many sinus problems.” I still have my adenoids, so she didn’t think much of me,
I guess, at that age, but that was at the very start but I did become quite good
quite quickly. He generally makes me laugh, he makes me smile, he makes
me cry, he makes me feel… He just, he just moves you. He’s just got this
lovely, natural, unaffected, almost childlike way about him. People forget that he was in the spotlight, the media
spotlight, from the age of 13 or 14. Just continually having a
camera shoved in your face, really, you have
to learn how to speak, I think. It’s one of those things that
you have when you’re a young person, you always believe that
you can do anything. And there’s
a big advantage to having that, and the longer that you can
hold on to it, especially as a young person in
sport, the more successful you’re
going to be. Ian Thorpe of Australia. The youngest Australian male
international since John Konrads. When I turned 15,
I became world champion. I had a very successful
Commonwealth Games after this, and then the following year, I broke four world records in
four days. World record Sunday,
world record Monday, will it be a world record on
Tuesday? He comes down to touch! Yes! Oh, yes! He’s done it!
He has done it again! He didn’t just break
the records, he improved his own records, and he didn’t improve them by a
little bit, he improved them by a
significant step. You couldn’t talk him out of
a race, because he had planned
his race, he knew exactly how
he was going to swim, and he wouldn’t be
deterred from that at all. And that’s what made him great. He was focused in on what he wanted to do, he had his
blinkers on, and he wanted to achieve. And he wanted to go
to the Olympic Games. It meant that I went into the
Sydney Olympics as, you know, almost this kind of,
almost unbackable favourite. And without me having
ever experienced Olympics, not knowing if I’d be
overwhelmed by the occasion, I was quite nervous
going into the Olympics. A level of nerves
that I hadn’t had before. (OLYMPIC GAMES SYDNEY 2000) The heat swim, I’d qualified
fastest into the final, but for the time that I swum, it hadn’t been as comfortable as what I thought it should
have been. So the first plant of doubt
comes into your mind, where you’re starting to
question, there might be something that’s gone wrong. I walked out in front of,
I think it was 17,000 people. I was really nervous, I was actually quite anxious about
the race. Until they announced my name. Ian Thorpe. And it was louder than
I’d ever heard anywhere. I had that stupid moment where, you know, when you get in
trouble when you’re at school, and you don’t know what else to
do but kind of smile or laugh, like, you just don’t know what
to do? It was – it was that moment. But what it did, it had just
flipped, from being so worried
about what was going to happen to actually being back into
control. (SYDNEY 2000
MEN’S 400M FREESTYLE FINAL) I remember swimming next
to him in the final in Sydney. It literally felt like I was
swimming in a washing machine for the full three minutes, because he just took off, and I had a bad race
and it was – it was painful. A very fierce competitor. I’d decided, “I’m going to lead “this race from the start to
the finish, “I have another race that comes
up straight after it, “so it gives me more options
to kind of conserve energy “for the next race that I
have.” The next race is the 4 by 100
freestyle relay. Same night. For Australia. (SYDNEY 2000
MEN’S 4X400M FREESTYLE FINAL) After the first swim,
which was by Michael Klim, he broke the world record
for 100 freestyle. I can remember he jumped out of
the pool, and he said to me, “What time did I do?” I said, “Oh, it was the world
record.” He said, “Yeah, but what time?” And I was like, “No, no, no, it
was faster “than anyone else ever did.” “I don’t know exactly what time
it was, “but it was the world record.” So we then had our next swimmer
come in, which was Chris Fylder, and then Ashley Callus, and the guys had asked me,
“What do you need?” And I said, “A lead.” And we led that race the whole
way. And I think now I should have
been more specific in saying I wanted, you know,
more of a significant lead! I dove in just ahead. By the time I came up
out of the water, I was already behind. And those cheers changed to
“Oh.” Like, and you could
feel the mood just drop. And so then I turned at the 50
metres, and for the first time,
I hadn’t lost any ground. Which, at that stage, was a bit
of a win. I was really aware of where he
was, but I knew I’d be able
to come home stronger. And so as I’d kind of gradually
caught up, the mood had changed
back around again, and people had started
screaming again. And I realised at 25 metres to
go, it’s going to be really close. I knew that he would be
hurting more than me, I’d felt like that so many
times in training, that I’d replicated that
kind of level of pain. And I’d been able to get
through it. And do that again, and let’s
repeat that and push it even further. And we won that race as well. First night at the Olympics. American swimmer Gary Hob
Junior said he was going to smash
our team like a guitar. And I think the “smashing them
like guitars” line goes down in history, and I think most people
in Australia know that one. It was the first time ever in
history an American team had
been beaten in that race. You know, it goes down in Australia as one of our
favourite Olympic moments. It’s like the city grew up for
the Olympics. It was kind of
the rowdy teenager before it, and then kind of was
comfortable with its place in the world. I don’t think Sydney tries
to be like a European city or an American city. It is uniquely Australian, and what that means is that it’s a melting pot for the
world. I feel so proud
to have been an Olympian, but to have been an Australian
Olympian, I think, is even more special.
More special. (SYDNEY 2000
WOMEN’S 400M FINAL) I knew how significant
that moment was for Catherine. I also knew how much
pressure she was under. She wanted to deliver that
performance for the nation, not just for Aboriginal people,
for everyone. It was a solidifying moment
for our society. I was very aware of Ian Thorpe. Well, he was just one of
the greatest sporting sensations in
Australian history. He had this aura, you know,
around him, I think the swimsuit really
kind of added to that aura. Yeah, we both looked like little superheroes, wearing
these suits! And, um, it’s, we had fun. What we expect from our
athletes isn’t just the gold
medal performances now. We want good role models,
people that you can look up to. A lot had changed for me
from Sydney to Athens. I was fortunate that I even got to swim in the race that I was
swimming in, I was disqualified at our
SYDNEY 2004, (MEN’S 400M FREESTYLE HEATS) So I reacted, on the blocks, to a noise that I heard in the
crowd, and so I false started. It’s kind of an instant
disqualification. He was under so much pressure, his internal trigger
went off a little bit too soon. He was our best swimmer
over that distance, and he had to be reinstated. We needed him in that event. The young man that stood down out of that 400 metres to let
Ian in, and that was a beautiful story. One of my good mates actually gave up his position for me to
swim. He could’ve probably have won
a medal. So, going into that race once
again, it… I felt, not only that it was assumed
that I’d win, I didn’t have a choice.
I had to win. (OLYMPIC GAMES ATHENS 2004) In lane five, the world record
holder, and reigning Olympic
champion, Ian Thorpe. Every time I stand behind
the blocks, I know that I’ve done
everything I possibly could to prepare for this event. I’ve prepared in a way that I’m better than any of my
competitors, even on their best day. In this race, I knew that
I hadn’t. And so it was the first time
I’d really doubted whether or not I could deliver
the result. Take your mark. (ATHENS 2004
MEN’S 400M FREESTYLE FINAL) I usually know where I’m at and how I can perform before I
race, so I was in doubt. He was very famous for his
kicking. When he started to kick, man, there was no-one who could
stand it. No-one. And so once that…that race
was over, I felt relived, I really did. There was going to be
even more pressure on him. The added pressure of knowing
that Craig had given up that spot for him to race that
event. I’m getting tears, like,
thinking about the race. And as a sportsperson as well, you know the pressure
that you can sometimes carry, and I have no idea
how…how he managed that. It was too much. Going into it, the expectation, you know, the weight of
a nation, really, you know, rather than
feeling as though it pushed me on, that was the first time it felt
like it weighed me down. You know, it wasn’t
a great performance for me. It was probably the worst 400
I’ve swum. But it was just good enough
to beat my best competitor. That’s all it was. Ladies and gentlemen, the final of the men’s 200-metre
freestyle. The race of the century,
I think, is what it was billed as. We had, I think it was five Olympic champions, in that
race. I guess the main part of that
race was between myself, Peter Van Den Hoogenbarn
and Michael Phelps. Peter Van Den Hoogenbarn won
this race at the Sydney
Olympics in front of me, and Michael Phelps was having,
you know, having, you know, an incredible Olympic Games. There are eight finalists who come out, step on the
blocks, and believe me,
none of them come to lose. (ATHENS 2004
MEN’S 200M FREESTYLE FINAL) Take your mark. It also was an indication of
where world swimming had gone to, that we had a European
champion who could win, and so Europe was cheering. In America, they thought
that the American champion was going to win this race. In Australia, in Asia,
it was kind of behind me. Swimming had become
more of a global sport, and people were more interested
in the swimming than they ever had been before. It was an exciting race to be a
part of. Two of my fiercest competitors
raced. I felt that the race itself was
mine to lose. Finishing part, it’s the
hardest part of the race, because you should be trying to
make your stroke longer when in reality, it’s getting
shorter. So that you don’t lose the
momentum going into the finish. And it takes a lot of
physical strength and mental strength
to be able to do that. It was kind of a race for
athletes. When all of the athletes actually stopped their swim
down, “Actually we’ll go out and “watch along the pool deck to
see what happens,” that’s really cool. Being able to do the
performance in front of your peers,
as well. Representing Australia,
Ian Thorpe. After Athens, I was looking
forward to my next Olympic Games, but what had happened in the
years since Sydney Olympics to Athens was the context of
swimming had changed completely for me. It wasn’t about
what I could do in training and what I then did in
competition. It was kind of being, you know, on all of the posters for the
competition, having to do, you know,
press conferences, doing things with sponsors, being invited along to, you
know, promote the sport itself. And then at each competition
it meant that, you know, there was extra things
that were expected of you. Even the media attention I had, you know, had completely
changed. Where it was something that had
become quite intrusive for me. I realised, “Do you know what? “I’m not loving what I’m doing
any more.” It was no longer about
just training and competing. It had become all of these
other things, and what it means to other
people, and I felt as though
my career wasn’t my own. I felt I was doing it for
other people. Sometimes I think you forget why you do the sport in the
first place. You lose that, the love and
the joy, and it becomes more of a…
you have to tick the boxes, and you have to keep
other people happy. And so I decided that I’d stop
swimming. I’m someone that has struggled with depression throughout
my career and, you know, during
that time was the darkest. I mean, I had been suicidal
in 2006. It was the worst time in
my life, and for someone
who has experienced, kind of, the highest highs
in the world through sport and, you know, the kind of euphoria that you have with winning
Olympic gold, to realise that you can go
equally low is a horrible thing. I’ve been through a dark space
myself, and it’s something that
you don’t know who to talk to, and you need somebody
to talk to that you can trust. The more well-known you become,
the more lonely you become, because, you know,
it’s very hard for other people to understand the pressures and the people that
you can trust become very few. Certain things that
Ian spoke to me about, I had been there myself,
I’d been through it. Ah, he knew he could trust me, and I think I was the shoulder that he could lean on, or
cry on. It was difficult to try and
fill a void that swimming had left behind. Your sport is your family,
and being around those people, it’s really nice
to have that camaraderie, and I think that’s what a lot
of people miss when they leave sport, you
know, retiring, or through injury. It’s a really sudden loss of
what feels like your family. I actually like
self-deprecating humour, and I think it’s kind of, I think it’s a healthy thing because it means
that you can have, take an outside perspective
and look into your life and actually, if you can
have a laugh about it, you’re less likely to be
caught up in it. It says Thorpe Do Pool
Cleaning. My name’s Ian Thorpe, CEO and founder of Thorpedo
Pool Cleaning. I loved doing the Optus ad. It was as though I’d started
a pool cleaning service, Thorpedo Pool Cleaning, that shows how a slightly
over-passionate person like myself could become about
pool cleaning. Ration. Kidney. Off centre figure-eight with a
sidestep. It gave me an opportunity to show the funny side that I
have, because most of
the times when I do things, I’m actually quite,
I have to be quite serious. I mean you’d never, you know, kind of crack many jokes
at a press conference. Like, it could be taken the
wrong way. So you don’t get a chance to do
that. So I’m glad people have been able to see that side of me,
as well. Water’s a living thing. You just need to know how to
listen to it. There are many special things
about Ian, but he, he has a very special
place in his heart for the indigenous
community of Australia, which is really, which,
of course, makes me very happy. I started my own charity in
2000, you know, just after the 2000 Olympics and we ended up working in what really is the only
kind of true health emergency that we have in Australia, and this is indigenous people’s
health. It’s quite staggering, I mean, some of the communities that we
worked in, they had diseases,
multiple clusters of diseases, that had been eradicated out
from our cities for decades. It was an area that I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to
have this experience and to be able to work
alongside people who have an incredible culture, right on my doorstep here
in Australia. There’s still a lot of work that’s being done in remote
communities. You know, that’s a huge legacy for him, that he’s been able to
do that, and I’m sure there’s a lot of
people out there that have been touched by him. Any of the issues around human
rights, they all fall into
the same basket. But the one that I guess I care
about the most at the moment is about marriage equality. For me, it was more difficult
to come out to my friends, my very closest friends, and I guess more so to
my family. I kind of said to them, “Look, I have decided that I’m
going to go public, “I’m going to announce during
the Parkinson interview “that I’m gay.” Life here as a gay man
in Sydney, it’s great. We have most of
the rights that, you know, my straight brothers and
sisters may have in this country. But when I travel, and I’ve
been to some of the places where, you know,
being gay is actually a crime, that is still punishable
by death in some countries, and then I hear about,
you know, the young gay person who could have been me,
who was thrown off a building. To have Ian out there with
everything he was able to accomplish, and to listen to what he cared
about. That’s what so inspiring for
other people, because whatever someone
is passionate about, you should know. They should be
so vocal about it, they should be fighting so hard
for it, that you know that’s something
they care about so much. And I think Ian made that so
evident in his fight for equality, that that was at the core of
who he was. If you want to be
a true champion in sport, you have to also
be prepared to pass that on to the next generation. And so my champion, my Olympic
champion, my hero when I was a kid,
was Aleksandr Popov. Well, for me, it just gives maybe a little bit of a
pleasure to know that a young swimmer,
with a good perspective, who learned a little bit
from me, managed to make
his way all the way through to the very top of the Olympic
podium. (ATHENS 2004
MEN’S 100M FREESTYLE FINAL) So in the semifinal, I beat
him to go through to the final, and I kind of felt really bad
about it. I saw him after and he was
completely fine about it, and then later, when
I was training in Switzerland, I actually got to train with
Aleksandr’s son, who’s also a good swimmer. And so I’ve actually enjoyed
helping him out. Seeing Ian, and being with him
in the water, as I said, it’s a great, great experience. Not a lot of swimmers
do have a chance to have this opportunity,
but he had. That’s what I think elite
sport’s about, and what being a
true champion is. Not just about what you do,
but maintaining a legacy of what people
have done before you, so that you can inspire
a new group of young people to become the future champions. Ian had a big influence in
swimming, in Australia, in particular on
the younger generation. So, Thorpie. Thorpie’s the most
well-known swimmer in Australia, that’s for sure. Everyone knows Ian Thorpe
and what he achieved. (RIO 2016
MEN’S 100M FREESTYLE FINAL) Probably the first person I
watched race in 2004 at Athens, and I thought,
“Swimming is a cool sport,” and that’s when I decided to
join in, from watching Ian Thorpe. He wrote me a letter describing
what the Olympics was like and trying to give me some
tips. Which, I took a lot of what he
said in and, yeah, I definitely feel like he helped me to get to
where I am. When you’re competing, you’re kind of just the caretaker of
your sport, and you have to respect
those who came before you that inspired you to be able
to do the things that you did, and also recognise
that there’s going to be a time where you pass that on. You pass it on to people that are going to inspire future
generations. I think now he’s sort
of finding his feet again and really starting to,
you know, have the opportunity
to do the things that he loves and do it on his own terms. He will go a long way with
whatever he chooses to do because he’s that type
of passionate person, and he’s got a beautiful heart
and passion within his body that he wants to share
and give to other people. Ian is someone who fights to be the best version of
himself and fights for what he
believes in, and that’s the epitome
of inspiration and role model. And that’s what
I think so many young athletes and young people should strive
for. And to have such
an incredible example of that, I think is really beautiful, and I truly thank Ian
for everything that he’s done. I like to enjoy and do the
things in my life with, you know, real purpose and with integrity and with
authenticity. And it means that, you know,
what I’m working towards is, eventually I’ll be able to sit
back and look at a life that, you know, I’ve been able to achieve
all the things that I wanted and I’ve had a great time along

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