Thorpe walk­ing a worn path

Al­co­hol, de­pres­sion hard to han­dle

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - JOSEPH RO­MANOS

It’s very sad to hear of Ian Thorpe’s con­tin­ued prob­lems. The great Aus­tralian swim­mer has been read­mit­ted to re­hab to bat­tle al­co­hol ad­dic­tion and de­pres­sion.

Th­ese have been prob­lems for Thorpe since his teenage years. Now aged 31, and with the tu­mult and the shout­ing of the crowd a fad­ing mem­ory, they are pos­si­bly even more dif­fi­cult to deal with.

Thorpe was a sen­sa­tion at 14, the kid with size 17 feet who was al­ready com­pet­ing with the world’s best.

I re­call him at the 2000 Syd­ney Olympics, when he won gold medals in the 200m and 400m freestyle (the same events our Danyon Loader won in 1996) and the 100m and 200m freestyle re­lays.

He and Cathy Free­man were the home­grown stars of those games.

‘‘Thor­pedo’’, only 18, seemed to have the world at his mercy. He was ta­lented, suc­cess­ful, lauded, rapidly amass­ing a for­tune and, to judge from his ever-present smile, happy.

In fact, as he re­vealed in his 2012 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy This Is Me, he was al­ready suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and drink­ing heav­ily to com­bat it.

Swim­ming seemed to give him a re­lease, but when his ca­reer ended, things got worse.

A failed come­back be­fore the 2012 Olympics in­di­cated he was des­per­ately search­ing for some­thing to give his life mean­ing.

It’s not just sports stars who strug­gle with life, of course, but when house­hold names fall from grace for var­i­ous rea­sons, the prob­lem is mag­ni­fied.

Stars’ trou­bles come in all forms. There are drugs (Lance Arm­strong, Mar­ion Jones, Ben John­son), gam­bling (Pet Rose), al­co­hol ( Jesse Ry­der, Jimmy Cowan, Zac Guild­ford, Ge­off Howarth), in­fi­delity ( Tiger Woods), fi­nan­cial dis­hon­esty ( Kevin Her­lihy, Keith Han­cox, Bruce Tay­lor, Steve Pokere, Brent Todd), even mur­der ( Car­los Mon­zon and, maybe, Os­car Pis­to­rius).

And that is re­ally only scratch­ing the sur­face. The cat­a­logue of trou­bled sports stars is mind-bog­glingly long.

Some of them would have had prob­lems any­way, but it’s unar­guable that the fame and in­flu­ence their sports abil­ity gave them con­trib­uted to a Nero com­plex – they felt they were un­touch­able, that nor­mal rules didn’t ap­ply, and they spi­ralled out of con­trol.

The ones I feel most sorry for those whose lives are ru­ined be­cause of the pres­sures of be­ing top- level sports­men or women. They don’t com­mit crimes; they just strug­gle to cope.

For­mer world ju­nior squash cham­pion Jade Wil­son was only 21 when she com­mit­ted sui­cide in Perth in 1998. The Wellington Girls’ Col­lege stu­dent couldn’t have been hap­pier when she won her world ti­tle in 1995.

She was pop­u­lar on the squash cir­cuit and ex­ceed­ingly fun-lov­ing. But Wil­son was also bat­tling her in­ner de­mons more than any of her friends ever sus­pected.

Martin Crowe is re­garded as the finest bats­man pro­duced by New Zealand. At the crease, he seemed so serene and as­sured.

Yet off the field, as he re­vealed last year in his book Raw, he has not han­dled fame well. It has led to all sorts of con­flicts and even, he be­lieves, to can­cer. Thorpe is like that. In the pool, he was a won­der. Dis­cussing swim­ming, as he did for the BBC dur­ing the 2012 Olympics, he was calm, in­ci­sive and hu­mor­ous.

But away from the swim­ming en­vi­ron­ment, he is strug­gling ever more to han­dle life.


Trou­bled: Ian Thorpe was a great swim­mer, but is hav­ing trou­ble deal­ing with life out­side the pool.

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