“I also made a very difficult decision that day that I am actually going to discontinue my professional swimming career”, said Ian Thorpe today in Sydney. Aside from the fact he needs a speech writer it shouldn’t come as a great surprise Ian Thorpe, the Thorpedo, is retiring. First fighting off the effects of glandular fever which kept him out of this year’s Commonwealth Games and then having to deal with a broken wrist, Thorpe had been rehabilitating himself in Los Angeles away from the media glare until the beginning of this month, when he finally came to his decision to retire. It’s been a long career. Starting at age five, swimming internationally since fourteen, he became the youngest male world swimming champion in history at fifteen. A decade later, with eleven World Championships and thirteen individual world records under his belt, he has little to prove to himself or the world.
A world class athlete works hard to reach such exalted status, and has to continue to work hard to stay there. Swimming is no different. A typical world ranked swimmer will schedule ten to twelve 1½- 2 hour swim practices a week, plus weight sessions, running workouts, physio and massage appointments, perhaps psych & strategy sessions, flexibility training, stroke analysis clinics, diet analysis, etc. Add up all the time plus commuting and prep time for three workouts/sessions a day and the world class athlete is putting in nearly the same hours as required by a full-time job, with the considerable disadvantage much of his or her ‘work’ is designed to physically exhaust. Ian Thorpe had been doing this for more than ten years. But is he retiring because of physical exhaustion, was his recent illness and injury symptomatic of a creeping physical breakdown? I don’t think so - he says he’s in the best physical shape he’s ever been. Besides, it is estimated he’s earning about 3.5 million U.S. annually in endorsements, a powerful inducement to continue regardless of how tired he is. With only two more years to Beijing and a possible historic gold medal in the 400 free for three consecutive Olympics why then did he retired?
Personally I think he retired for the same reason most people leave the sport, he’s not improving anymore. It’s one thing to work hard and receive a tangible reward for your work in the form of faster times in the pool, but Thorpe hasn’t set a new world record in over four years. Four years of working hard and achieving nothing is bound to wear on the strongest of psyche. There must come a time when a person asks the big question, isn’t there a better way to live my life? For Ian Thorpe that question was finally answered in the affirmative, it was time for him to move on and explore life outside the pool, rather than stare at that black line day after day after endless day.