The best thing about Manchester was the atmosphere of the tiny pool. The constant musical backdrop kept the crowd revved up and wildly enthusiastic. the spectators in the front row were so close they could shake my hand. The relaxed intimacy of the place had infused me with a sense of joyous nuttiness when I came out for the 400m final.
The reality was that if Grant Hackett couldn’t get a long way in front by 300m it wasn’t possible for him to win and I was taking my races out much faster than I used to. I was almost a second ahead of world record pace at 100 and stayed there to the 300. I knew that as long as it felt like I had the efficiency in my stroke I’d have plenty in the tank to bring it home. It was close but I got there, shaving my world mark down to 3:40.08. I could have gone faster but I let my intensity slip as I glided into the wall which cost me the 3:40 target I really wanted.
With 5 gold medals and a likely victory in the medley relay to come, the chance of 7 golds all came down to the show down with Matt Welsh just as everyone had thought. I kept pouring cold water on my chances of upsetting Matt – emphatically at every opportunity – but the press wouldn’t let it lie. In the final Matt got to the turn first where I was third. I lifted in the second fifty and got past Alex Lim right at the death but I couldn’t catch Welsh. All the same I was stoked with my performance which was a new PB.
The day after the meet I had a prearranged interview and photo shoot early in the morning. Just before, Ian Hanson [Australian Swimming Media Manager] said “Thorpey have you got your medals mate?”
I rummaged in my bag. “Oh no, I’ve got a couple, not all of them…here’s one…two..” that was it, the rest were in my room somewhere.
The worlds media were waiting, 100 pressmen and 20 cameramen so a driver was sent to check my pigsty of a room – no luck. Team manager Karen Stephenson was given the task of racing round the village and rustling up four gold and a silver from anywhere, while Hanson stalled the photographers.
Finally with a bit of sleight of hand I was ready to pose, with two of my gold medals, three from Grant Hackett, one from Dyana Calub and a silver from somewhere else no one was any the wiser.
I found my medals in the end, in another bag wrapped up in a towel. It’s not that I had no respect for me Commonwealth medals just that I was still a boy, and that’s what boys are like.
Extracted and adapted from “Ian Thorpe. The Biography” by Greg Hunter