By Stephen. J. Thomas
MELBOURNE, December 10. IT was hardly a surprise last night when freestyle ace Ian Thorpe was announced as Australian "Swimmer of the Year" for a record fourth consecutive time, usurping retired distance king and three-time winner Kieren Perkins.
After all, Thorpe had only last week been announced as male "World Swimmer of the Year" by Swimming World magazine for a record fourth time in five years. As it stands, only Thorpe, Perkins and Susie O'Neill have won the Aussie award more than once, with O'Neill taking it on two occasions.
It might have been a low key week for Thorpe in the pool, as he spent more time watching proceedings at the three day World Cup meet other than his much publicized flirtation with the 50 freestyle. However, the 20-year-old superstar was only recently ranked ninth highest paid Australian athlete in 2002, earning A$3.8 million (US$1.9 million) in gross income, according to the annual rich list produced by the Australian publication,
Golfer Greg Norman heads the list with A$24.6 million (US$12.3 million), with tennis world number one, Lleyton Hewitt, at $18.8 million (US$9.4 million).
Thorpe won six gold medals and broke his own 400m freestyle world record at this year's Commonwealth Games in Manchester and followed that up with five golds at the Pan Pacific games in Yokohama, Japan.
Thorpe's former coach Doug Frost took the award for Australian "Coach of the Year" also for the fourth time. The two split after completing the international competitive phase. The champion swimmer paid tribute to Frost at the ceremony for his significant contribution to get him to this stage in his career. He also made mention of his coach of two months, Tracey Menzies, who he said will help him maintain his high level of success.
Thorpe was also awarded best male middle-distance swimmer as well as picking up the "People's Choice" award.
Petria Thomas and Grant Hackett were dual award winners, recognized for the best short course performances and for their individual disciplines, butterfly and distance freestyle respectively.
World short course 100m freestyle champion Ashley Callus was named "Best Male Sprinter" after winning in Moscow despite taking silver medals behind Thorpe in the same event at the Commonwealth and Pan Pacific long course meets.
Commonwealth Games 100m freestyle gold medalist Jodie Henry was awarded "Best Female Sprinter," while her 16-year-old training partner, Alice Mills, was female "Discovery of the Year." Their coach, Shannon Rollason, was awarded "Age Group Coach of the Year.'
Freestyler Jason Cram, was named male "Discovery of the Year" after his contribution in the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team winning gold in Manchester and Yokohama.