Thorpedo Comeback Creates Tidal Wave of Interest

Feature by Ian Hanson, Chief Australian correspondent

SINGAPORE, November 3. SINGAPORE would certainly not have expected to be the centre of attention for one of international swimming's highest profile comebacks when it put its hand up to host the FINA Swimming World Cup.

The 2010 leg of the FINA event in Singapore hardly raised a ripple.

Add the name Ian Thorpe onto this year's program and you have a tidal wave of interest and excitement that will ensure that the South-East Asian City State will be well and truly alive with "Thorpedo" fever.

Singapore will take centre stage in the swimming world for two days on November 4 and 5 and never will two short course races -the 100m individual medley and 100m butterfly – receive so much coverage.

Every Australian television network Channels Nine, Seven, Ten, Fox Sports, ABC and major newspaper organizations, News Limited, The Australian, Fairfax and AAP will be represented at the two-day meet .

It has also attracted a host of journalists and photographers from around the world, with interest already from the major international news agencies, AFP, Xinhua News Agency, Thomson Reuters, French sports paper L'Equipe, European Pressphoto Agency, Telegraph Media Group (UK), Eleven Media Group (Myanmar) the London Times, and swimming-dedicated sites like Swimming World and many more who will converge on the Lion City for a glimpse of Thorpe's comeback.

Channel Nine, Australia's Olympic correspondent Damien Ryan said Thorpe's return to the pool would again be "Page One News" in Australia.

"It's going to be doubt about that, but it's going to be different because he's liking swimming again, he's enjoying himself and that's going to be his biggest advantage," said Ryan, the journalist who asked the question at Thorpe's retirement press conference in 2007 if he would ever return.

"He looked at me kind of strangely and said 'well I've only just retired.' And you are asking me if I'm going to come back."

Ryan said it would be a privilege to be poolside again to welcome him back to competitive swimming, even if it's "only short course."

"I can guarantee it will probably be the first time I can remember having the World Cup on the mainstream television news," said Ryan.

"But with Ian not swimming freestyle, in Singapore it will probably mean many of us will be going to the other meets in Beijing and Tokyo."

Channel Seven's Olympic reporter Jim Wilson has been on Thorpe watch for most of his reporting career.

"Thorpey has the awe and the mystique. It's the most anticipated comeback in the history of sport for quite some time," admitted Wilson.

"And even though it is only short course and he is not swimming freestyle, we would be there to cover him swimming dog paddle.

"The only other person who would draw a crowd to a comeback in swimming would have been Dawn Fraser.

"Thorpe is an icon. For Channel Seven to go to Singapore was a given. There was no hesitation, no second thoughts, even though budgets are tight.

"Swimming needs draw cards; the women's team has carried the hopes for a long time; the men's team needs profile.

"When you have Ian Thorpe on the cusp of qualifying for his third have to be there."

The Australian media's love affair with Thorpe started back in 1997 with a throng of reporters including Nicole Jeffrey (The Australian), Jacqueline Magnay (Sydney Morning Herald), Janelle Miles (AAP) and Wayne Smith (Courier Mail) attending the Thorpedo's debut at the Pan Pacs in Fukuoka.

And on August 13, the Sydney Morning Herald screamed: "Australia unleashes its new weapon- The Thorpedo" after the 14-year-old's silver medal winning swim behind Grant Hackett in the 400m freestyle.

Jeffery, now The Australian's senior Olympics and chief swimming writer, is as excited as anyone at the prospect of seeing Thorpe back in the water after following his career from that first National team appearance in an outer precinct pool in front of a handful of Japanese fans.

Thorpe returned to Fukuoka for the 2001 FINA World Championships, to hero status in front of thousands of fans at the venue and millions more who would tune in to watch the Thorpedo on television and a bus with his image portrayed all over it.

"I've actually had the privilege of seeing every one of his world records, even the Short Course world mark he set in Berlin in2000," said Jeffrey.

"In 1997 the Pan Pacs threw up Thorpe at 14 and Grant Hackett at16 and Michael Klim had already started to fire and Geoff Huegill was on the move – it was an exciting time for swimming.

"I guess he retired so young that there was always the possibility of a return to the pool but he was so disenchanted when he left and he had so much to lose if he returned, I wasn't completely convinced despite the stories around town that he was back in the pool.

"I wasn't convinced until it was made official, but now that he's back. He's still young enough and right through his career he never suffered a swimming injury. The way he swam was gentle on his body.

"What interests me is the fact that he has never trained as a sprinter even though he won medals at the World Championships and the Olympics over 100 he was always prepared for the 400m which meant he never really had that early speed.

"He was always coming home swimming over the waves of the opposition but now he will be on an even keel and that's going to be exciting for swimming fans to follow.

"And for him to have Gennadi Touretski in his corner, the man behind arguably the world's best ever 100m swimmer in Alex Popov makes it even more exciting – I can't wait."

It was The Australian newspaper of January 16, 1998 that splashed "The Thorpedo" across its front page with this headline "Enter The Thorpedo. Best in the world at 15."

Michael Cowley has covered swimming for the Sydney Morning Herald for more than a decade and also understands the awe and the presence he commands.

"Let the circus begin. Bring it on," said Cowley, who remembers the coverage of the Australian Swim Team's press conference before the Athens Olympics.

"There were reporters there to cover the actual press conference itself because Thorpey was front and centre after what had happened at the Trials when he fell in the water and everything that took place that allowed him to swim.

"Then there was his retirement press conference which went live around the country as did his comeback press conference. So his comeback to swimming is going to be massive. I just hope Singapore is ready for Thorpey."