Ian James Thorpe (born October 13, 1982), Australian swimmer, is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance swimmers of all time after winning the 200 and 400 metre freestyle races at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He has won five Olympic gold medals, more than any other Australian.
Thorpe was born in Milperra, in the south-western suburbs of Sydney, and was educated at East Hills Boys High School( other famous alumni include Steve Waugh and Mark Waugh). Although Thorpe's father, Ken, excelled as a cricketer, Ian did not have the same ability. Instead, he followed his sister, Christina, into competitive swimming. Thorpe made his first impact in 1997, when he was selected at 14 for the Australian team at the Pan Pacific competition in Fukuoka, Japan, becoming the youngest male to represent Australia in swimming. He came second to another Australian teenager, Grant Hackett, in the 400 metre freestyle, beginning a rivalry which has continued ever since. He also excelled in the 200 metre freestyle and the 200 metre butterfly.
In 1998, he etched his name into the Australian consciousness when he won the 400m freestyle at the World Championships in Perth, out-touching Hackett, and thus becoming the youngest male to become world-champion. He later combined with Hackett, Michael Klim, and Daniel Kowalski to win the 4x200m freestyle relay, starting a six-year winning streak for Australia in this event.
In 1999, at the Pan-Pacific Championships in Sydney, he broke his first world records, setting a time of 3.41.83 in the 400m to break Kieren Perkins' mark by almost two seconds, which was hitherto regarded as one of the most impressive records of its time. He also twice lowered the 200m freestyle world record at the same meet.
Since 1998 Thorpe has completely dominated the 400 metre freestyle event, winning the event at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, the 2001 Fukuoka World Championships (at which he won a total of six gold medals), and again in Athens. His dominance has broadened to include the 200 and 400 metre freestyle (at which he holds the world record), and he is one of the fastest 100 metre freestylers in the world. He has been nicknamed "Thorpedo" by the Australian press for his swimming prowess.
Thorpe has also pushed Australian relay teams to unprecedented success, anchoring the winning 4x100 and leading off the 4x200 freestyle relay teams in Sydney, the first time the United States had ever been beaten in the events. In total, he has broken world records (either individually or as part of a relay team) 22 times.
Thorpe's success is based on a strong work ethic, attention to detail, flawless technique, mental strength, and a physiology suited to swimming. At 1.95 m (6 ft 5 in) and 105 kg (231 lb), he is very large for a swimmer and many thought that as he matured and continued to grow he would be unable to maintain his performance as a teenager. He has however, been able to maintain a trademark six-beat kick to power away to victory in the closing stages of races, attributed to his unnaturally large feet.
In 2002, he controversially split with his lifelong coach, Doug Frost to train with Tracy Menzies.
Thorpe's preparations for the Athens Olympics were clouded by controversy. In late March 2004 Thorpe competed in the qualification events. He was disqualified from the 400 m freestyle (his best event) after making a false start. Australia's Olympic selection rules allow for a qualifier to stand down, and for another swimmer to be selected in their place. After some deliberation, the second qualifier, Craig Stevens, withdrew from the event, and Thorpe accepted the offered place.
Since the Athens Olympics, Thorpe took a year off from competitive swimming, skipping the 2005 world championships. He is currently back in training, and has stated his availability for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Away from the pool, Thorpe in many ways defies the stereotype of Australian sportspeople. He is quiet, mild-mannered, thoughtful, articulate, but extremely guarded in his statements, and he reportedly makes considerable efforts to insulate himself from the media when preparing for and during important events. His lack of interest in (and aptitude for) other sports is well-known. Instead, his other enthusiasm appears to be fashion, as an ambassador for Armani clothing and his own range of designer jewellery. He was a presenter at the 2005 TVWeek Logies, and one of the backers of new A-league team Sydney FC.
Thorpe's performances in Sydney and Athens have made him a national hero in Australia, a country which reveres sporting stars. His victory in the 200 metres at Athens pitted him against American swimmer Michael Phelps, Sydney gold medallist Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and his fellow Australian Grant Hackett. The race attracted unprecedented media attention in Australia, and Thorpe's victory made him one of the most celebrated Australian athletes of all time. He has recently bought a $2.9 million house in Caringbah, a southern suburb of Sydney.