The man in the big black suit is no more, with Ian Thorpe having hung up his goggles and called time on his illustrious career. There’s no doubt that he has been a swimming great since bursting on to the scene as a 15 year old at the Perth World Championships in 1998, setting countless world records and claming 5 Olympic Gold medals. Along the way there have been countless highs and impressive performances, but the four below are our favourites.
It is so much the stuff of legends that it needs virtually no explanation. The sheer drama of the moment lives on as, with the expectations of a nation on his shoulders, Thorpe overhauled Gary Hall Jr in the closing metres of the relay final to hand the US their first ever defeat in the event.
There would be no world records in Manchester, predicted Australian National Performance Director Greg Hodge. The pool was not set up for fast swimming, he said. Well, Thorpe didn’t listen, duly beating his own 400m mark on the opening night of competition and only narrowly failing to take the record under 3:40. It’s a record that still stands and is indicative of his dominance in the event; no one else has swum under 3:42.5.
It may not have been the classic race hat would have been the fitting final international appearance for the man, but the emotion was all too real as Thorpe successfully defended his Olympic title, despite the close attentions of runner up Hackett. That he even got the chance to swim remains the debt he owes team-mate Craig Stevens who opted out of the event, with Thorpe disqualified in the trials, to let him swim.
Fukuoka saw Thorpe at the height of his powers as he claimed a record six gold medals. The most impressive of that sextet was surely the 800m freestyle as for 16 laps he went stroke for stroke with that other Australian superstar Grant Hackett. The pair pushed each other all the way to the 700m turn and were both well under world record pace, when Thorpe applied the coup de grace. Going to his legs and applying the afterburners, Thorpe split an incredible 53.23 for the final 100m, leaving Hackett floundering in his wake. The magnitude of that change of pace is most clearly illustrated by Hackett’s swim to finally reclaim the record in 2005. The Queenslander had to get himself 3.82 seconds under Thorpe’s 700m split to break the record by just 0.51s.