The “will he?” or “won’t he?” saga surrounding the career of Ian Thorpe finally came to a conclusion today when he told a packed press conference that was retiring from professional swimming.

The 24-year-old said that he had decided on Sunday to pull out of next year’s world championships in Melbourne, and later that day, decided he no longer wanted to continue with his stellar career in the pool. He admitted he’d been thinking about quitting the sport for much longer.

“I’d been working towards this decision for quite some time,” Thorpe said. “I’m a 24-year-old, and I’m only just 24 as well. I’m young enough to still see the new challenges and be able to accept them within my life. I’m also old enough now that I realise all of these accomplishments that have got me to this place in my life.

“I also know there is a lot of people out there that want me to keep swimming. I only hoped that I wanted to swim half as much as other people want me to.”

Victorian Institute of Sport swimming coach, Bernard Savage, who has worked with Thorpe on Australian national teams over the past six years, said he could understand where his former charge was coming from.

“It’s just a very tough ask to go through the sort of program elite swimmers endure to get to the top of the tree,” Savage said. “You’re talking 10 training sessions a week, most about 2 to 2 ½ hours in length, so if you’re not fully motivated to keep going, you are just not going to achieve what you want to achieve, whether you’re Ian Thorpe or any other elite athlete.

“Ian sets very high standards for himself, and he would have known that if he was not at 100% physical and mental fitness by the time Beijing came around, he wouldn’t have met the standard he’d expect of himself. From that point of view, I can understand where he’s coming from.”

Savage said rumours of Thorpe’s imminent retirement had circulated through swimming circles for the past 12 to 18 months, but even those “in the know” weren’t sure which direction he’d eventually take.

“A bit like he was saying in his press conference, you sort of hope he could find that hunger again, but if it isn’t there, he’s made the right decision.”

Peter Fray

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