Australia's Thorpe retires from competitive swimming

Tuesday, November 21st 2006, 5:18 am
By: News On 6

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ With one look at his watch, Ian Thorpe knew it was time to retire.

After years of checking the clock following each race, the five-time Olympic champion could not resist the impulse to peek at the time at the moment he made up his mind to retire.

Thorpe, who held a news conference at a Sydney hotel, said he decided at ``2:53 on Sunday afternoon'' not to swim at next year's world championships in Melbourne and to end his pro swimming career.

``I needed a closing point,'' he said. ``So I looked at my watch and that was the time. It's as simple as that.''

Speculation swirled for months about whether Thorpe planned to pull out of the world championships or quit the sport entirely. Local media reports predicted Thorpe would pull out of the national trials in Brisbane next month, citing the effects of a recent bout with glandular fever.

``It's been a tough decision to make,'' the 24-year-old said. ``I had to pick a time, that was the time. None of my goals included breaking any more world records. I knew how to do it, but it wasn't as inspiring as it should have been.''

Plagued by illness, injury and a lack of motivation, Thorpe hasn't competed in a major international event since the Athens Olympics.

Thorpe burst onto the swimming scene as a teenager and swam to 13 world records between 1999-2002, becoming an international star after dominating at the Sydney Olympics.

``I was catapulted into the international limelight as a kid,'' he said.

He had to train in California earlier this year to escape the heavy media scrutiny in Australia.

``I've reached all the dizzying heights of this sport,'' he said. ``I've also had a tremendous amount of success. I've also had setbacks _ the last round of them sent me to LA where I could focus on what I was doing with fewer distractions than I have here.''

Thorpe said his training has gone well in the United States, but he still decided it was time to call it a career.

``It's a very dark question for me. Swimming has been a security blanket,'' he said. But, ``I haven't balanced out my life. I realized I had to prioritize other things and had to let swimming take a back seat _ I'm looking at the next phase.''

Thorpe and American Michael Phelps are acknowledged as the stars of the sport.

``Ian was an inspiration and a terrific champion,'' Phelps said in a statement. ``He elevated the worldwide interest in swimming and was a great ambassador to our sport. I wish him the best of luck in the future.''

The Australian swimmer, nicknamed ``Thorpedo,'' won the 200- and 400-meter freestyle events at the Athens Olympics.

He planned a yearlong break after Athens, claiming ``mental fatigue'' and hoping to stay fresh for major competitions down the road.

He later decided not to compete at last year's world championships in Montreal, then dropped out of the Commonwealth Games in March.

Thorpe, who won five Olympic gold medals and 11 world titles, did not entirely rule out a comeback.

``I never rule anything out, but it's not going to happen,'' he said as more than 100 photographers and reporters packed a hotel conference room for the announcement.

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel called Thorpe a great Olympic champion.

``The night in Athens when Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe were on the pool deck together, there was instant electricity,'' Seibel said in a statement. ``It had the feel of a championship prize fight or game seven in a World Series. You couldn't wait for the race to start, and once it did, you didn't want it to end. It was captivating ... two great competitors who brought out the best in each other and represented the highest values of international competition.''