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Ian Thorpe: "I want to share my Olympic experience with the people of India"

The Australian swimming legend feels Australia will finish around fifth in terms of the medals tally at the Rio Olympics.

Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe is in India as part of Star Sports’ commentary panel for the Olympics

The 50-day countdown to the biggest multi-sport event- The Rio 2016 Olympic Games is here. The games which will begin on August 5th in Brazil will witness the largest every Olympic contingent from India. Star Sports which will be broadcasting the event across eight channels held an event in Mumbai to mark the occasion.

The channel has exclusively brought together an elite panel of international and Indian Olympians as sports experts who will share, analyse and connect with the Indian viewers as the live action unfolds. The panel includes Ian Thorpe, Prakash Padukone, Anjali Bhagwat, Viren Rasquinha and Rehan Poncha

Five-time Australian Olympic Gold medallist, Ian Thorpe gave his insights on what lies ahead and talked about his visit to India among other things. His victory at the 1998 World championships in Perth made him the youngest ever individual male world champion. He won it when he was a sixteen-year-old. 

Sportskeeda caught up with him as he made his first visit to the country. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

So Ian, is this your first visit to India?

Yes, it is. I’ve always wanted to come to India but I’ve wanted to spend a month or two months here. Because I think it’s a kind of place where you need to spend a lot of time. So it’s strange that I’ve come for such a short time. But yes, I prefer to be on vacation around India. I want to explore the historic parts of this country. It’s the birthplace of all these different religions.

A melting pot of cultures that exists here is quite interesting for me. It feels as if there are many countries within one. I also like the food and have been able to enjoy the spices and what not. That is probably the main reason.

What made you take up a commentating job in India?

I look at the values I have in the Olympics and I want to share that with people. I want to tell people how you can aspire to do great things and to be able to accomplish them. It’s going to be broadcasted to a very large audience. I want to be able to take them through sports that people may not know the same amount about swimming. I want to introduce people to a sport I love. There’s also a challenged attached to this. I want to be able to share the best of what the Olympics has and energize them.

Australia has been a traditional powerhouse in Olympics. Not anymore compared to the previous years. Why?

I think we’re overly simplifying it. We attribute it to being only one thing. It's more than that. When we look at recent history and you must consider that we had increased funding leading into the Sydney Olympics. Which we carried over the benefit to the Athens Olympic games.

In 2008, we kind of started to fall from that position. Only so slightly. Then we get to 2012 and the result wasn’t as good. At the same time, some of those countries that we were ahead of, have had increases in funding. Great Britain was one of them and they’ve performed very well. Funding was increased at the London games because you don’t want to host the games and not perform well there.

So it’s this combination including the sharing of different technologies. Different research around sports and performance. I think we’ll be in a higher position as far as the medal count is concerned this time around. I think we’ll finish in fifth position or around that. In swimming, we’ll probably be behind the Americans but we’ll win between 4-6 medals quite conservatively.

Ian Thorpe swimming
The Australian is happy with the advancements science have made to catch doping in sports

How big is the drug menace at the Olympic games?

I don’t know exactly. I believe it’s the minority. And even when we go back, we look at these tests that have come up and we look at new technologies to test, I think this is a great thing.

It’s kind of like when DNA testing came in. It meant that there were people who were in jail and got released from jail since they were innocent. And rightly so there were people who were guilty who were put into jail.

I think that when we catch people, we have to change the conversation. From it being on about everyone must be on drugs to isn’t it great that we caught these people? It’s too easy to say everyone must be on drugs. I also think at that for athletes who are clean, there is such strength and power knowing that you’re a clean athlete.

Even If you suspect that someone else may be doping, the game that you have by being clean is incredibly powerful. I don’t see how the benefit of using drugs could actually eclipse that. Having honesty and integrity in what you’re doing is the most powerful thing you can possess in sport

What goes through a debutant’s mind at the Olympics?

My advice for people is not to worry. Everyone else is as nervous as you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympic champion, then there’s actually more pressure on you. You have to do it again! So you’re nervous and you feel the same as everyone else. You have to feel as if the weight of the nation is behind you and spurring you on rather than weighing you down.

Realizing that it’s well-wishers and not expectations. Most importantly you have to enjoy the experience and realize how fortunate you are to be among a very elite group. It means you can take pride in yourself.

What’s the sporting situation is Australia like?

Swimming is the most popular Olympic sport. It drives most of the coverage for us. People tend to know who the swimmers are more so than the other athletes. For swimming, we have the highest participation rate for any of the Olympic sports. In Australia, its second highest to fishing! If that’s a sport? I’ll give it that it’s a sport. But we’ve won a diverse group of medals from different sports and that too gold medals.

We’ve won in taekwondo which isn’t traditionally a sport that Australians take part in. In Australia, we have a broad approach to sports and realize the value it has in our communities. The argument is that we commit to sports because it can really lift a community but it can also lift the nation. As we try and combat an obesity epidemic, it also becomes a great way of cutting future healthcare costs!

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