x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Swimming great Ian Thorpe to train in Abu Dhabi to prepare for London 2012

Australia's greatest ever Olympian could use the Armed Forces Officers Club in the capital as the base for his comeback bid.

Gold medallist Ian Thorpe from Australia celebrates his victory in the men's 200 metre freestyle final at the Olympic pool in Athens Monday, Aug. 16, 2004 . (AP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson, CP)
Gold medallist Ian Thorpe from Australia celebrates his victory in the men's 200 metre freestyle final at the Olympic pool in Athens Monday, Aug. 16, 2004 . (AP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson, CP)

Australian swimmer chooses capital to escape media glare

Paul Radley

ABU DHABI // Ian Thorpe, Australia's greatest ever Olympian, will stage an intensive training camp in Abu Dhabi as part of his bid to reach next year's Olympic Games in London.

The 28-year-old swimmer announced his plan to return to competition yesterday, after four years away from the pool, and 11 years after earning superstar status by winning three golds at his home Olympics in Sydney. He won two more golds at the Athens Games four years later,

The Armed Forces Officers Club, which has a 50-metre Olympic-standard pool, will be his likely training venue as it offers the type of restricted access he desires.

Since first contemplating the idea of a return in September, Thorpe has trained at eight different suburban pools in his native Sydney, as he tried to evade the media glare.

Now he has opted to relocate to the UAE, from where he will train via correspondence with the Australian swimming team's head coach, Leigh Nugent, who has been coaching him by text for the past five months.

"While there was a time in my life that I thought I would never swim competitively again, things have changed, and I'm very excited to once again be back in the pool," Thorpe said at a press conference in Sydney yesterday. "Today I can say that I am now 100 per cent mentally and physically committed to competing at the Olympic trials and am doing all in my power to best prepare for them and beyond."

Thorpe's move to the Gulf is thought to have been driven by a variety of factors, the uppermost of which is privacy, but also because of a reciprocal agreement between his sponsors, Virgin Blue, and Etihad. Virgin Blue are Thorpe's "official airline" and he is scheduled to be on their first flight between Sydney and Abu Dhabi on February 24.

The UAE's closer proximity to Europe will also offer greater access to the elite training squads and coaches on the continent.

That will be crucial if Thorpe is going to have any out-of-competition practice, as he is unable to compete officially for the next nine months, as per the rules of Fina, swimming's governing body.

"I think he wants to be away from the scrutiny which he would not have been able to avoid if he was in [Australia]," said Greg Hodge, the former UAE national coach, who was in charge of Australia's high performance programme when Thorpe first rose to prominence.

"He can't race officially for nine months, so I'd imagine he will be organising some in-training competition within those nine months."

Thorpe has to adhere to the doping control regulations of Fina relating to retired competitors.

Law 5.5.2 states the returning competitor "may not resume competing unless he notifies Fina in writing at least nine months before he or she expects to return to competition". He will also have to be available for out-of-competition drug testing.

Thorpe plans to target the 100 metres and 200m freestyle relays, but also hopes to compete in the individual events should he successfully qualify at the Olympic trials next March.

"Ian is a considered and mature young man and I know he hasn't made this decision to return to competitive swimming lightly," Nugent was quoted as saying. "His return to the pool will be a huge bonus for our sport."

pradley@thenational.ae