ABC’s doco by Gregor Jordan (Two Hands, Ned Kelly) and Simone Kessell into the planned return of Ian Thorpe benefits from remarkable access to the Olympic champ as he sets his sights on London.
It didn’t finish with the ending we had all been hoping for, but therein lies excruciating drama.
There are also moments touching upon his personal life, although some subjects seem to be conspicuously avoided (Amanda Beard relationship / friendship for example). His “I sleep with women” statement is actually a response to a question from many years ago.
In November 2006 Ian Thorpe, Australia’s most successful Olympian, (and recently voted our most admired Olympian of all time) announced his retirement from competitive swimming. Aged 24 and the winner of nine Olympic medals, including five gold, he was adamant that a return to the sport was out of the question. He stepped from the limelight much as he first came to it: articulate, but strangely remote with the media and the public, and without the tribal markings of any familiar kind of Australian male. His short life only came into focus in water, where his efficiency and consistency, his line through the pool, elevated swimming to a kind of art. Now that was gone.
Then, in October 2010, he began a comeback – his goal, victory at the London Olympics. Immediately friends and filmmakers Gregor Jordan and Simone Kessell started interviewing and filming Ian as he trained, secretly at first, then as he competed in lead-up events to the Olympic Trials in Adelaide in March 2012.
We all know how the competitive swimming part of this story ends: defeat. What the film reveals are the inner struggles of Ian Thorpe not just to swim fast, but to rewrite his sporting legend, re-engage with the public and discover a different relationship with water itself. This 60-minute film is a rollercoaster ride in which Thorpe and the filmmakers plumb his depths but find, despite failure at the Trials, a surprising redemptive ending. Ian Thorpe learns to love swimming again. And he learns to value truly the extraordinary champion he was – just as he comes to terms with being a more ordinary man now.
Ian Thorpe: The Swimmer 7:30pm Sunday on ABC1.