Talking to and watching Ian Thorpe swim, you forget he's still only 15. He has unlimited potential and is rewriting the record books at every turn. He stands out in a crowd, not just for his swimming ability but because he stands 160 cm tall, weighs 95 kilos, and takes a size 16 shoe specially bought by mail order from the United States.
In January he became the youngest ever male world champion (400 freestyle and 4x200 free relay). In Kuala Lumpur, he was part of the world record-setting 4x200 free relay and won two individual golds, missing the world record in the 200 freestyle by 1/100 of a second and posting the second fastest ever 400 freestyle time. One shudders at what the future holds for this latest Australian "wonder boy."
"Thorpedo in Speedos," as he is known Down Under, admits "I've developed quite early. It's a bit of a blur. It's all coming thick and fast." How he has managed it all, he just can't explain. Nor can he predict what is in store by Sydney 2000. In bewilderment he adds, "I'm not sure how much I can improve."
With his dedication and determination, one feels there is still a lot in the tank.
A lot is expected from this teenager, but as he claims, "It's what's expected of you back in Australia." He goes on to explain, "I have the will to win and do well for my country."
With all the fame, his size 16 feet are firmly on the ground. "We realize the pressure put on us at home and abroad. But it's all a credit to my parents." His parents, Ken and Margaret, play a large part in his life. In order to concentrate on training he is doing school work by a correspondence course, going weekly into East Hill Boys Technical High School to have his work checked. Family life is not totally devoted to "wonder boy," as sister Christina swam for Australia in 1995-96 and was injured. She has now fully recovered and hopes to be back on the national team.
Thorpe's main events are the 200 and 400 freestyle. But he is the first to admit, "As you develop, your events can change. I would like to do the 100 free but it's not going well at the moment."
He may be a world champion but he is still learning. His European trip to the Mare Nostrum series in June was a new experience. "I've never used racing as part of my training before. It helped me here in Kuala Lumpur, with so many races over six days."
What advice would he give to youngsters coming into the sport? "Hard work and you are never too young."
His program under the supervision of coach Doug Frost at the Sutherland Aquatic Centre is geared towards Sydney 2000, where Thorpe hopes to "continue improving and keep doing what I'm doing now."
Middle distance swimmers of the world, you have been warned.