Friday, 29 January 2010

Top 20 Swimmers of the 2000s - No.4 - Ian Thorpe

No. 4 - Ian Thorpe

Performance 2000-2009

Olympics - 3 Golds, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Worlds - 5 Golds, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
WRs - 100 Free (2000-2004), 50 Free (2000-2008), 50 Fly (2000-2002), 100 Fly (2000-2009)
World Swimmer of the Year - Twice - 2000, 2001

Had this been a list of the Top 20 swimmers from 1998-2009 Thorpe would have been beaten only by Michael Phelps. Unfortunately for Thorpedo, Speedendurance's rules won't be stretched for anyone, therefore only his feats from 2000 have been taken into account. Regardless of the years lost, Thorpe still managed to chalk up an impressive roll of honour from the last decade.

Thorpe was undoubtedly swimming's biggest star until Phelps arrived and the few years they raced each other at 200 Free were a joy to behold. A physical phenomenon, Thorpe raised the sport's profile higher than it had been in a long while.

In terms of Olympic success Thorpe only has one blemish on his record, his defeat in Sydney to Pieter van den Hoogenband in the 200 Free. Otherwise he was exceptional winning Gold twice in the 400 Free and once in the 200 Free. After winning bronze in the 100 Free in Athens he became the first man in Olympic history to medal in the 100-200-400 Free events. In Sydney expectations were immense on Thorpe, who was still yet to turn 18 at the time. He delivered on the first day winning the 400m Free in 3:40.59 (2.81 seconds clear of Massimiliano Rosolino and 6.41 seconds ahead of Klete Keller in 3rd) and followed it up on the same night by anchoring the 4 x 100 Free relay to Gold, breaking the USA's domination in the event. Until a certain Mr. Lezak showed up in Beijing, Thorpe's final leg was one of the most impressive relay swims in history.

Thorpe won both the 200 Free and 400 Free at Worlds in 2001 and 2003 aswell as the 800 Free in 2001. Had he swum in 2005, he would have been expected to win atleast the 400 Free and probably the 200 Free also.

As impressive as these achievements were, I believe Thorpe's greatest legacy lies not in the medals he collected, but in the phenomenal times he swum. He dominated the 400 Free event in a fashion rarely seen. He broke the WR when he was just 16 years old and continued to lower it to the mind-blowing 3:40.08 set at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Even with the aid of poly-urethane suits, Paul Biedermann was only able to break Thorpe's record by a single hundredth of a second. His time of 1:44.06 in the 200 Free also set new ground for that event, acheiving times that people wouldn't have dreamt possible just 2 years before.

Thorpe's loss of motivation/health is one of the great tragedies for the sport of swimming. His last major competition was the 2004 Olympics at the age of just 21, officially retiring on Nov 21 2006 (aged 24). Had he continued swimming to the Beijing Olympics he would have been aged just 25.

Picking a clip from Thorpe's career is tough. However, my personal favourite is the 2000 4 x 100 Free relay. In an event too short for him at the time, he overcame a legend in Gary Hall Jr. The fact he had won the 400 Free earlier that night made it all the more impressive and completed a magical night for Australian swimming.

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