SANTA CLARA, Sept. 27. AMERICAN coaches are beginning to believe what was unthinkable even one month ago – that Australia's champion Ian Thorpe may be vulnerable in the future.
So says Dr. Dick Jochums, head coach of the famed Santa Clara Swim Club and head coach of the triumphant US men's team at the 2002 Pan Pacific Games in Yokohama. Other American coaches agree.
Thorpe's decision to leave his longtime coach Doug Frost has prompted international speculation about the effect the move will have on the world's premier swimmer. This speculations has been further fuelled by Thorpe's decision to go with a virtually untested and unknown coach, Frost's former assistant Tracey Menzies.
"It could backfire on him," said Jochums. "And it could really backfire on the young lady that's taken him over. If he keeps on breaking world records, well, fine, but if he stops breaking them, then she gets blamed."
Jochums said Thorpe was already on a par with US icon Mark Spitz, who won an unequalled seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
"I think Thorpe is the greatest I've ever seen," he said. "He's in a class, maybe, of best in the century. He's certainly every bit as good as Spitz was and that's the guy I thought was the best."
Jochums is hoping there is a young, hungry American swimmer who will emerge to challenge Thorpe by the Athens Olympics in 2004.
"Thorpe came out of nowhere," Jochums said. "I'm sure we've got someone out there that's going to chase him. Someone who isn't going to worship him."
The US swim team is still celebrating its demolition of Australia at the recent Pan Pacific championships, winning 21 golds to Australia's 11. "We kicked Australia's butt and I'm real pleased," Jochums said.