Thorpe ready to face moment of truth at trials for Olympics

Thorpe ready to face moment of truth at trials for Olympics

ADELAIDE - The Associated Press
Thorpe ready to face moment of truth at trials for Olympics

Former Olympic champion Ian Thorpe admitted he is nervous ahead of the trials. AP photo

The man known around the world as The Thorpedo is about to face his moment of truth.

Ian Thorpe’s comeback from retirement has been so closely scrutinized Down Under that he’s had to prepare in Europe.

So when he arrived in Adelaide two days ahead of the Australian Olympic trials for London 2012, national media carried immediate news confirming he’d touched down in the South Australia state capital.

And the 3,000-seat venue hosting the eight-day meet beginning today is expected to be at capacity on March 17 night if Thorpe makes the final of the 200-meter freestyle.

For all his experience - his five Olympic gold medals, 13 individual long-course world records, his multitude of world, Commonwealth and Pan-Pacific titles - the 29-year-old Thorpe concedes he’s facing something new. The prospect that his Olympic dream could vanish in a matter of days.

All eyes on Thorpe
There are 88 other swimmers competing for spots in the Australian squad, including 100-meter world champion James “The Missile” Magnussen, triple Beijing Olympics gold medalist Stephanie Rice and other former champions making comebacks such as Libby Trickett, Geoff Huegill and Michael Klim. But most of the attention has focussed on Thorpe, who may only qualify for a relay spot.

Or, maybe not qualify at all.

The trials will be televised live in prime time and, due to what the local media is calling “Thorpe mania,” the crowds, media coverage and sponsorships are better than they have been in years for swimming in Australia.

“I know it’s kind of eagerly anticipated,” Thorpe said this week. “I’ve been preparing for this for about 18 months now so I’m nervous, just like probably everyone else.”

Thorpe will compete only in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle. He needs to finish first or second in either event to earn an individual spot at London, or finish in the top six to have a chance of selection as a relay swimmer.

Thorpe has swum thousands of miles since he burst onto the international swimming scene as a boy in 1999, then confirmed his talent with three gold medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He retired in 2006, tired of training and constantly being the public glare. His last major championship was the Athens 2004 Olympics, where he won 200- and 400-meter freestyle golds.

Watching from the sidelines at Beijing, where American Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, made Thorpe hungry to return to the Olympics.

Thorpe’s times since his comeback have been well below the times he was posting at his peak. Some critics think he’s been ‘foxing,’ by deliberately holding himself back in competition.

“I have been asked this by friends as well and there may have been a period when I first started back in swimming and I was hoping that I might be able to do it,” Thorpe said. “But unfortunately I haven’t had that luxury. So frankly, no.”