By Phillip Whitten
SYDNEY, Feb 26. LOOK out Lenny, 'cause here come Da Thorpedo!
Yes, folks, you read that right. Australia's 19 year-old Boy Wonder, Ian Thorpe, is seriously entertaining the idea of expanding his swimming horizons and entering the backstroke in a bid to win a record seven gold medals at this year's Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England.
Thorpe won three freestyle gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and six golds at last year's World Championships in Japan, but now he wants to make things harder on himself: he wants to swim the only stroke where you can't see where you're going.
Thorpe has entered the 100 meter backstroke at next month's Australian championships in Brisbane. If he finishes in the top two, he will decided whether or not to swim the event in Manchester.
Making the team in the backstroke won't be easy. His competition will include 2000 Olympic silver and bronze medalists Matt Welsh and Josh Watson. Last year, in the absence of the USA's Lenny Krayzelburg, Welsh won gold at the World Championships.
It is not well known, but Thorpe is far from a novice in the backstroke. As a junior swimmer, he excelled in the dorsal events. Leading off a medley relay at the Goodwill Games last September — in a competitive atmosphere that was far from ideal — he clocked a world class 55.64 seconds.
That ranked him third in Australia last year (fourth all-time) and 16th in the world. Not bad for a "fun swim!" Who knows what Thorpie can do when he's trained backstroke and is ready to give it his all?
Certainly a sub-55 second effort appears likely. A 53+ is not out of the question.
(Perhaps, in an effort to win eight golds in Manchester, he can swim both the leadoff backstroke leg and the freestyle anchor leg.)
Australia's Susan O'Neill won a record six gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Thorpe won four gold medals in Malaysia as a 15-year-old but will be expected to better that haul in Manchester.
Thorpe is favored to win the 200 and 400 meters freestyle — events in which he holds the world record — and he has a good shot at making the team in the 100 meters, especially in the absence of Michael Klim. He will also swim the three relays, in which Australia is heavily favored.
The Australian championships, to be held in Brisbane from March 18-23, will double as the Trials for the Commonwealth Games and the Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama in August.