Initially allergic to chlorine, Ian Thorpe overcame this to compete hard and win international honors in swimming by age 14. He went on to win 11 world championships and dominate the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
Early Swimming Career
Ian James Thorpe was born on October 13, 1982, and grew up in Milperra, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Both mother, Margaret, and father, Ken, were active in sports and encouraged Ian and his older sister, Christina, to pursue their interest in swimming. Ironically, Ian was allergic to chlorine when he was young. He later started swimming with his head out of the water, which eliminated the allergic reaction.
Ian Thorpe soon began competing in swim meets in Australia, winning nine gold medals at the New South Wales Short Course Age Championships in 1994. Thorpe was 6 feet tall when he started high school in 1995, and began to use his size to an advantage. He competed at the Australian Age Championships, winning bronze medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle events. He then won all 10 events at the New South Wales Age Championships in 1997. That same year, at the Pan Pacific Championship in Japan—his first international event—he finished second in the 400-meter freestyle, and set the fastest record for a 14 year-old.
In 1998, Thorpe won his first of 11 world championships, dominating the meet in the 200 and 400-meter freestyle events. In the 200-meter relay, he broke away from Olympic champion, American Tom Malchow, and by the end of his leg, the Australians were three seconds ahead of the Americans. In the 400-meter freestyle final, Thorpe closed in on teammate Grant Hackett's commanding lead and beat him in the final stroke, becoming the youngest to win a world championship.
Media attention followed, and Thorpe received multiple endorsement offers. He became a high-profile supporter of the Children's Cancer Institute, in honor of a close friend who suffered from lymphoma. In the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney, Thorpe was pitted against teammate Grant Hackett and South African Ryk Meethling in the 400-meter freestyle. Halfway through the race, all three swimmers were bunched together when Thorpe opened it up and won, finishing a full two seconds ahead of the world record. He received a $25,000 reward for the world record, which he promptly donated to charity.
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Thorpe was under immense pressure to deliver multiple world records and several gold medals. He won Australia's first gold medal of the Games, in the 400-meter freestyle, setting a new world record. Later that night, he helped win the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay. Though he broke the world record in the 200-meter freestyle in preliminary heats, he placed second to Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband in the final. Thorpe returned the following night with a victory in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay. With three gold and two silver medals, Thorpe was the most successful athlete of the 2000 Olympic Games.
Thorpe dominated the 2001 World and the 2002 Pan Pacific championships in all of his events, creating a huge build-up to the 2004 Olympics. The 200-meter freestyle was dubbed the "Race of the Century," with Thorpe, Hackett, van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps as favorites. During the race, Van den Hoogenband was more than a second under the world record at the split, and Thorpe was half a body length behind. Thorpe passed van den Hoogenband in the last 50 meters, winning by half a body length and setting a new Olympic record. In all, Thorpe won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze medal.
After the 2004 Olympics, Ian Thorpe took a year off from competitive swimming, planning to compete in the 2008 Olympics before he retired. In a series of missteps, illness and injury, he finally felt compelled to announce his retirement in November 2006. In February 2011, he declared his intent to compete in the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, stoking speculation of a renewed rivalry with Michael Phelps. However, he faded early at the Australian Olympic trials in his two favorite events, the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle, and set his sights on the 2013 World Championships.
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