Many years ago, sports journalist Pat Besford started an article on Shane Gould with the words: "Do they ever really come back?" It was 1973 and Gould, winner of five medals, three of them gold, at the 1972 Olympics at 15 years of age, was to take a break from the pool and focus on school work and life beyond the water.
Gould did make a comeback: in the 1990s as a master and has been a swimmer all her adult life. But the elite race pool and the hunt for big podium prizes ended in Munich for "The Australian Goldfish" as the German media dubbed the shooting star of world swimming.
Ian Thorpe has had his own journey in and out of the sport but Besford's words ring true today at the end of a week in which the 2000 and 2004 Olympic champion and winner of five golds at those two Games confirmed that his comeback will not include the Barcelona world titles this summer. Thorpe's shot at making the Australian team for London 2012 fell well shy last year.
A Rio 2016 campaign is a possibility but Thorpe's January statement that he might get back into hard training sometime in the next two years was confirmed by an entry list at Australian nationals in Adelaide next week that does not include the names of one of the greatest swimmers ever to emerge from the shoal of elite Dolphins.
Swimming Australia confirmed that the 30-year-old had not entered the meet. Thorpe retired in November 2006 after setting 13 world records and winning 11 world championship gold medals. He came out of retirement last year for a shot at London 2012. It was not to be.
"I still have a life in the pool,” Thorpe has said. “I simply didn’t have enough time (before London) to prepare the way I wanted to and I had to compromise.”
At Olympic trials last year, he said that “the fairytale has turned into a nightmare” after missing the 200m free final. He added: “When I started this I wanted to get back into the pool, I wanted to start racing again. I wanted to be competitive again and I wanted to go to the Olympics."
Barcelona 2013 was the next goal. No longer. His return to the race pool may have helped a touch in the sale of his book “This is Me: The Autobiography” in which he refers to his frequent battles with depression and his reliance on alcohol at times down the years. He also replies to the fuss over his sexuality: “For the record,” he writes, “I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight. I am attracted to women.”
What seems certain too is that he is not as attracted to the path required to get him back to being the athlete he was. Do they ever really come back? Sometimes they do these days but the answer when it comes to Thorpe looks like a "probably not" at the very best. But he will be a swimmer all his life - and that's a great thing.
Meanwhile in Australia:
A paper has named sprinter Matt Targett in connection with an incident that the nation's top swimmer of late, Alicia Coutts, felt she deserved an apology for but never got. The article by Todd Balym suggests that inquiry bosses were too soft on the relay men at the heart of the Stilnox saga.