Ian Thorpe’s achievements in the pool guarantee him a place among Australia’s sporting greats. Five Olympic gold medals, nine Commonwealth gold, 14 World Championship victories (at every distance from 100 to 800 metres) and 22 world records make him our most successful athlete ever.
Out of the pool his grace and humility made the “Thorpedo” such a drawcard that he is widely credited with having made swimming a prime time television event.
Yet early in life it seemed swimming would not be his sport: When he first joined elder sister Christina (who would also become an international swimmer) in the pool at Milperra in suburban Sydney, he had to swim with his head out of the water because of an allergy to chlorine.
Fortunately this problem faded and by the age of 14 he became the youngest male ever to represent Australia in swimming when he was selected for the Fukuoka Pan Pacific Championships in 1997. The following year he became our youngest-ever male world champion with victory in the 400 metres freestyle at the 1998 World Championships in Perth. He would dominate this event at World Championship and Olympic level for the next six years.
The grace and goodwill which made him such a popular champion was demonstrated a year later when he won a $25,000 price for setting the first world record in the Sydney’s new Olympic pool and promptly donated the prize to charities.
In 2000 he claimed the 400 metre title in the same pool at the Sydney Olympics as well as a silver medal in the 200 metres and two more gold and a silver in relay events.
In 2002 he split with coach Doug Frost to work with little known Tracey Menzies but he continued to notch up victories.
In the lead-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics he sensationally failed to be selected for the 400 metres after being disqualified in trials for a false start. Team-mate Craig Stephens generously withdrew from the event in Athens to allow Thorpe (who was in the team for the 200 metres) to be appointed in his place. Thorpe responded brilliantly with a gold medal performance and also won the 200.
Thorpe then took time out from swimming and subsequently retired, but his record of five Olympic and 14 World Championship victories ensures him swimming immortality.
Honours, Awards & Achievements
Awarded AM (previously OAM) at 2019 Australia Day