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n the wa­ter, no one can hear you scream. And for years, Grant Hack­ett’s pain thresh­old was le­gendary. At the 2000 Olympics, he had a nasty virus and still took gold in the 1500m freestyle. At the 2004 Games in Athens, he swam the same event with a col­lapsed lung that cut his breath­ing ca­pac­ity by 25 per cent. Yet he still tri­umphed. “Tech­ni­cally, he’s the least skilled,” said Hack­ett’s life­long coach, De­nis Cot­terell. “But he’s the tough­est.” So when Hack­ett re­tired in 2008 aged 28, he seemed well set to take that courage and suc­cess into the next phase of his life. By then, the big Queens­lan­der was mar­ried to singer Candice Al­ley, and in 2009 they wel­comed twins, Jag­ger and Char­l­ize. A day job as a bank­ing ex­ec­u­tive for West­pac was flour­ish­ing and Chan­nel Nine snapped him up to read sports news and oc­ca­sion­ally


com­men­tate. Dare we say, life was go­ing swim­mingly. Fact is, the pool was the far­thest thing from his mind. Apart from surf­ing with brother Craig, an Iron­man, the former world champ and Aus­tralian swim cap­tain hadn’t dipped a toe in wa­ter since re­tir­ing. Hav­ing spent 20 years chas­ing a black line across a blue room in pur­suit of gold, life be­yond the pool was about shift­ing hori­zons and keep­ing his feet firmly on the ground. That was un­til an up­turned grand pi­ano sang out with an un­easy tune. It was 2011 and Hack­ett and Al­ley had in­dulged in race­day fes­tiv­i­ties at Derby Day, be­fore re­turn­ing to their flash Mel­bourne apart­ment where an ar­gu­ment flared and a de­mo­li­tion be­gan – bot­tles smashed, walls torn down, and Al­ley’s pride and joy, the baby grand pi­ano, de­stroyed. Seven months later, pho­tos of the car­nage leaked to the me­dia, re­ports claim­ing Al­ley and the chil­dren were, “un­harmed but dis­traught and shak­ing with fear.” The sink­ing of Grant Hack­ett had be­gun. For all the tabloid head­lines, ac­cusatory op-ed pieces and po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions that fol­lowed, Hack­ett was never charged. With any­thing. But his mar­riage was over and a cus­tody bat­tle for the young twins was born. A 2012 ad­mis­sion that he’d de­vel­oped a “heavy reliance” on Stil­nox – a sleep­ing seda­tive known to cause hal­lu­ci­na­tions, delu­sions and im­paired judg­ment – added more grist to the ru­mour mill. When 60 Min­utes in­evitably came call­ing, Aus­tralians saw their former Olympic hero messy with tears and some re­morse. The coup de grâce on Hack­ett’s once squeaky-clean im­age came last sum­mer when grainy pho­tos emerged of a dazed and con­fused man, semi-naked and ap­par­ently search­ing for his miss­ing son, in the foyer of Crown Casino. Rock bot­tom had been reached. Hack­ett’s par­ents staged an in­ter­ven­tion – “he’s a dick­head but we love him,” said fa­ther and ex-cop, Neville, to a frenzy of jour­nal­ists – and shortly af­ter­wards, their son flew to the US to check into what he called a “re­treat”, but what ev­ery­one else knew was re­hab. A year on and the Grant Hack­ett wan­der­ing around to­day’s ho­tel is bet­ter dressed, clearer eyed and much surer of foot. Just hours be­fore, the 35-year-old had shocked the world by qual­i­fy­ing for July’s world ti­tles in Rus­sia af­ter plac­ing in the 200m freestyle at the Aus­tralian tri­als. As he squares those big shoul­ders and sits down to talk, the sto­ries in the pa­pers, on the air­waves and on­line still re­fer to the dark clouds of the past. Though to­day, there’s also a sil­ver lin­ing – and the faint glim­mer of gold in his fu­ture.

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