Legendary Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe was in India this week as part of the Star Sports commentator’s panel for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the freestyle great spoke to local media about Michael Phelps‘ chances at additional Olympic medals this summer.
“He’s good enough to make one of those positions in the relays,” Thorpe told the India Times, “because it’s such a strong American team that it will win medals if not gold medals for sure and Michael can potentially win individual events as long as the rest of the world stays at the level that is. If they improve Michael will find it difficult. I wish him luck.”
Thorpe also talked about swimming in Phelps’ large media shadow, contrasted his 2012 comeback attempt with Phelps’ current one and talked about Phelps’ new challenge of balancing swimming and fatherhood. Here are a few excerpts from the India Times Q&A:
Did Phelps’ extra number of medals made you feel ever that your achievements will be undermined?
Not at all! It wasn’t something for me that was ever a priority. My preference would have been there if Michael (Phelps) and I had swum at the same time, exactly the same time. I had even defeated Michael once but mind you to his credit that wasn’t his best event. It would have been great for the sport globally if that had happened. Michael and my career overlapped just a little bit. He is one of my friends. I think he’s been great to bring an audience into swimming. We swam in different events else we wouldn’t have crossed paths even if our career had overlapped we wouldn’t have competed beyond a couple of races. I wouldn’t be competing in his best race and he wouldn’t in mine.
You had a failed comeback bid when you were 29 in London Olympics. How do you see Phelps (at age 31) trying to make a return for Rio Games.
It also makes a difference that how long have you been out. I was out for more than four years and didn’t even swim a stroke. I swam four times in four years. He was out for less time. The thing is when people return to sport, they have different motivations for what they want to do it for. For me, I wanted to compete in the Olympics again, I was really clear about that, it wasn’t only to just try it out. I also wanted to fall back to what I love, how I felt as a kid. For Michael, he wants to be part of relays. He wants to have one of the last opportunities to compete. He’s good enough to make one of those positions in the relays because it’s such a strong American team that it will win medals if not gold medals for sure and Michael can potentially win individual events as long as the rest of the world stays at the level that is. If they improve Michael will find it difficult. I wish him luck.
Must be difficult for Phelps to balance swimming with fatherhood?
It’s a new chapter. It’s very easy we project what we want to say about champions rather than considering what they want. For Michael, it would be I just want a swim or I haven’t swum in Rio, finish off something that’s in my timezone. Maybe now he has a child and he thinks about it in a different way – why wouldn’t I do it because the rest of my life I will be spending with the kids. So we not always understand what the stories are behind why the athletes want to compete. I know a lot of people who want to maintain their statistics and their careers pure, not compromising on that I am not good perhaps when they return.
You can check out the full interview here. Thorpe goes on to talk about Australia’s medal chances in Rio, and also weighs in on WADA’s re-tests of anti-doping samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.