Aussie Legend Ian Thorpe Calls For Ditching Olympic Medal Targets

by Retta Race 46

June 21st, 2018 Australia, International, News

Speaking at an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) summit on the subject of athlete well-being earlier this month, multiple Olympic gold medalist and Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe shared his thoughts on national-level medal goals made publicly by Olympic Committees heading into a major sporting competition such as an Olympic Games.

“I don’t think it’s beneficial when sporting organisations are talking about how many gold medals we’ll win at a competition and that will be the highest number we’ve ever won,” long-retired Thorpe said.

“It puts an immense amount of pressure on athletes around something they have no control over.” (Reuters)

The Australian Olympic Committee has set a target of a ‘top 5’ medal table finish at the last 3 Summer Games, while individual sporting federations down under also have their own targets.

And, the nation of Australia isn’t alone in setting medal-driven targets, however. Japan, host of the next Summer Olympics, has announced a medal target of 30 golds for 2020. The British Olympic Association also targeted an overall 3rd place finish in the medal table when they hosted the Olympics back in 2012, partly due to the nation’s record-breaking performance in 2008 that resulted in a 4th place finish overall.

Shortly after Thorpe voiced his opinion, AOC President John Coates issued a statement supporting the Olympic swimmer. “We actively stepped away from setting targets for the very reasons that Ian has rightly raised in recent days. In November 2016, the AOC executive fully endorsed the position that no targets be set in our programme and funding guidelines for both Tokyo 2020 Summer Games and also this year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.”

Coates said,“Our focus should be on Australians engaging in sporting activity and seeking to fulfill themselves through sport.” (Straits Times)

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Awesome. The next headline should say “Abolish Swim Medals So No One’s Feelings Get Hurt”

Ex Quaker

The fact is the Australian team has had a big issue producing to the level of their potential at big meets. A lot of that seems to have been mental. I think Thorpe’s point is that putting a direct focus on the medals may be detrimental, and I think he’d rather see an emphasis on fast swimming than medal count, which would hopefully be more conducive to Aussie success in pressure-cooker environments.


I agree with this. I’m sure the medal picture would have been different had the Aussie stars changed their focus a bit from medals to times. While I am very glad that Simone Manuel won her gold in the 100 free, the medal pressure may have contributed to C1’s shocking underperformance in the 100 final. Same thing with Larkin, McKeon, Seebohm,, etc. Look at the intense pressure that the French men were under to win the gold in the 4 x 100 FrR in 2008. How did that work for them? The same with the Aussie and Russian men’s teams to win/medal in those relays. I think about it this way: two of the most successful NCAA Swimming coaches have… Read more »


I’ll play devils advocate. I believe Australia’s system follows Britain; Where medals dictates funding. In fact, in Britain, it’s possibly even tougher mentally as funding is allocated every 4 years and is based on Olympic results alone – If a squad, say the swim team, has 3 years of success and medals galore then flops at the Olympic Games – They get zilch. Massive funding cut. As a result, Britain has actually seen far more success, that has gradually imvreased year on year since Lottery Funding started in 1997 – It was dismissed as London 2012 peak, but the improvement has been gradual since 1997 and continuee in 2016 – The first nation to be more successful at an Olympics… Read more »

Will Jonathan

Correlation does not imply causation though, Dee. The Britain team performing well, despite their funding being dependent on results, doesn’t mean that that’s why they’re successful. Also, very rarely is there only one way to be successful at anything in life, much less swimming. They could be just as successful, if not more successful, if they adopted the kind of approach Ian is talking about, and that wouldn’t be a surprise. It goes without saying that the less pressure athletes feel, the better their overall mental state becomes. The better their overall mental state becomes, the better they perform. And, the better they perform, the better their results can be. That’s why coaches and teams are constantly looking for ways… Read more »


Easy to say when you’re the fastest ever in your event by some 1.3 seconds…

Will Jonathan

He stated that quote before the Rio Olympics in 2016, before he was the Adam Peaty he is now and when he was essentially a nobody. It’s a mindset he’s always had since he started committing himself to swimming.

Sum Ting Wong

Peatty won the 100 m breastroke at CWG but put out awful lot of unnecessary verbage regarding the 58.89.time . Plus his leg did not win England the certain medley relay gold .

I posted here that he would win but the time would be a lot slower . He looked a bit chubby & underdefined ( for his standards ) . Even greats can be off .


Every Federation that ties success to finding has a history of failure. Eg South Africa, GB, etc. USAs always funds the Olympic team and the best prospects. Wonder why we crush the rest of the world? This is one BIG factor.

Sum Ting Wong

Iirc Australia did better in the medal tally ( maybe gold only which is what Australia usually goes by ) in 2004 than 2000. In swimming they vastly improved their women after addressing some serious issues by having some women only teams . This was the backbone to a 10 year reign for Australian women .

I think hosting an Olympics / major event highlights some weaknesses / near misses that can be worked on if the will is there . I personally would just like a bit more efficiency & personal rights in sport .

Joe Bagodonuts

The important thing is that the kids have fun.

Swimmer A

That’s a weird interpretation you locked onto there. They’re olympic athletes, of course they want medals. I think he’s sayin that putting the entire nation’s hopes and expectations on a few standout athletes is kind of counter productive.


I agree, the aim should be to swim to your potential, out of that should come gold medals in time.

If, for example, Chalmers goes 46.8 in Tokyo but loses to Dressel going 46.5, is that really failure?

You can’t be accountable for what other people might or might not do and making targets dependent on that reduces the focus on what you can be accountable for, swimming the fastest you ever have when it matters most.

Will Jonathan

This is a fantastic idea. The scientific literature on this is absolutely clear: Intrinsic motivation is more effective and longer-lasting than extrinsic motivation. It’s always better to place one’s focus on performance and execution rather than outcomes and rewards. Medals are simply a consequence of high performance, and by shifting the focus away from the outcome, it puts less pressure on the athletes, which allows them to enter competition in a better mental state, which, in turn, leads to the better performances that produce the outcomes desired. Having said that, this is not to be confused with “not having the will to win” or “not being competitive”. The desire to achieve a specific outcome hasn’t changed. All that’s changed is… Read more »

Joe Bagodonuts

“The scientific literature on this is absolutely clear. . .”? Which “science” is that?

Ex Quaker

Psychology, probably

Will Jonathan

The decades of scientific psychological research conducted by scientists, researchers, and academics dating back to the 1950’s.

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