Australian swimming legend, Ian Thorpe, recently revealed his intentions to continue his ill-fated comeback. After a publicised failure to make the Australian team for the London Olympics last year, Thorpe has decided to return to the pool on a full-time basis for at least the next two years. At the tender age of 29, many within the sport believe that Thorpe's best sporting achievements are behind him. However, the man's interminable spirit and his innate desire to win suggest that those who write him off do so at their peril.
The five-time gold-medallist complained that his attempt to make the 2012 Olympic Games left him with insufficient time in which to fully prepare. The charismatic swimming icon fell some way short of the required performance level to make the Australian team, but his renewed determination may still result in an appearance at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Thorpe has publicly acknowledged his shortcomings during his Olympic preparations, but he believes he now has the time and opportunity to prepare more fully.
The head of the Australian swimming team, Leigh Nugent, recently dealt the Thorpe camp a very public blow, however. It is Nugent's ardent belief that Thorpe will struggle to achieve the same level of performance that made him a star of both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Of course, Nugent stopped short of saying such a feat was impossible, but he questioned Thorpe's ability to motivate himself. Achieving a level of fitness and performance comparable to the world's best swimmers will require a level of dedication and sacrifice that may prove to be too difficult for a man who is fast-approaching the age of 30. However, Nugent's very public comments may actually prove to be the driving force behind Thorpe's resurgence as a world-class swimmer.
Thorpe's comeback in 2012 was focussed on the freestyle sprinting events, yet he made his name in middle-distance races. Some within the sport believe the Australian's inflated ego was the driving force behind the switch to sprinting; indeed, one of the fiercest critics of this decision was Thorpe himself. Prominent swimming coaches have suggested that Thorpe's natural physiology is more suited to longer distances, and it would appear that the man himself has finally accepted that his future lies in the 400-metre freestyle event.
Ian Thorpe is a much-loved character in his native Australia, and he has the will of a nation behind his comeback. If success in the pool was down to sheer charisma and personality, a successful comeback would be a certainty. However, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is still over three years away, so the prospect of a podium finish in Brazil remains remote. Despite competing against swimmers who are fifteen years younger, those who know Thorpe would actually be more surprised if his comeback attempt failed. All that remains now is for Thorpe to start the long and arduous road back to the top.