Thorpe only wants to clear his name and put his size 17 feet up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am

Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe has undergone 'six months of hell' as he still waits for the world governing body, Fina, to fully clear him from allegations that his golden success in the pool was drug-fuelled.

'The system clearly does not work,' said Thorpe, who has been in town this week and been involved with Hong Kong's 2009 East Asian Games awareness programme.

'We need a system in place that will protect innocent athletes, which I am.'

Thorpe, a freestyle specialist, aimed his broadside at the official investigations carried out by doping authorities after a suspicious drug test result, just before his retirement in November last year. In March this year, the French newspaper L'Equipe reported that Thorpe - Australia's most successful swimmer having won five Olympic gold medals - tested positive for a banned substance in 2006.

Last month, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority cleared Thorpe of any wrongdoing.

Thorpe is now waiting for Fina to clear his name. Fina had lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, to clarify issues surrounding the report.

'We need a system in place which will educate people that when an athlete performs well, you don't have to question that performance. It is not fair for athletes who have done the right thing. I am innocent,' Thorpe said.

Thorpe, 24, retired from swimming citing waning interest. Yesterday he revealed that the pool held no more allure for him, other than being a convenient way to 'de-stress'.

'I didn't take the decision to quit lightly. When I made up my mind, I knew there were two significant events around the corner - the world championships in Melbourne and the Beijing Olympics. But these two competitions were not enough justification to keep going. I didn't have that level of passion in me any more,' Thorpe revealed.

'I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I didn't have the fire I once did.'

The famous size 17 feet which propelled him to his five Olympic gold medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games, also brought Thorpe 11 world titles and 13 world records. His pet event was the 400 metres freestyle, where he won gold at the last two Olympics. He won't be around to defend his crown in Beijing next August.

'I won't miss it because I will be in Beijing,' smiles Thorpe. 'It will be the first time I will be going to an Olympic Games where I won't be competing. I can't say right now what I will be doing, but I know I will be very nervous for my friends when they are competing.'

Australia left Athens with one of their biggest hauls of swimming medals at an Olympic Games, 15 including seven golds, and they finished second to the powerful American juggernaut. But Thorpe feels that will be a hard feat to repeat in Beijing.

'I don't think we will do as well as we did in Athens, and this is not because I won't be going. But we had a really good team in 2004. The present squad is young and it will take some time for them to come through. Australian swimming is going through a cycle, it will take some time before the next wave comes through,' he said.

But as far as Thorpe is concerned, his life in the pool is over. 'I don't swim as an exercise any more. I now get into the pool only when I need to relax from stress,' he said.