Thorpe walking a worn path
Alcohol, depression hard to handle
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.