Source: The Weekend Australian, 31 March, 2001, p.49
IAN THORPE's size-17 feet may be the least remarkable thing about him. In one extraordinary week in Hobart, he has demonstrated he is a super athlete in every way. He is big, strong, fast, durable, smart, disciplined, composed, courageous. And he is still growing. His coach Doug Frost made a statement this week which should truly horrify the world's best freestyle swimmers. Ian Thorpe, triple Olympic gold medallist, world recordholder in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle and the new national 100m freestyle champion, is still a long way from being a mature athlete. He is already the first man in 40 years to swim at world-class level from 100m to 800m, the equivalent of a runner who can beat both Michael Johnson and Hicham El Guerrouj, but there is more to come. Frost believes 18-year-old Thorpe will continue to develop physically and mentally for five or six years. "I would think Ian has another six years of developing and improving, at least," he said after Thorpe had demolished the world 20Om freestyle record. "He's going to get stronger and faster, that's why we need to persevere in the 100m." Frost recalled that Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, who defeated Thorpe for the 200m freestyle gold medal at the Olympics, was 22 in Sydney. When the Dutch sprinter was Thorpe's age, at the Atlanta Games, he finished fourth in the 100m and 200m freestyle. Four years later he was king of the pool. The implication is that Thorpe will be an infinitely better swimmer by the Athens Olympics. That is just a natural part of growing up, said Frost, who bristles at any suggestion his swimmer is a freak talent. "He's not a freak, he's just an exceptionally outstanding athlete and person," Frost said. "It might be frightening but it's not freakish" Yet it is hard to comprehend just how much bigger, stronger and faster Thorpe can get. He is already the biggest man in swimming at 100kg. Others, like great Russian sprinter Alex Popov, are taller (200cm to Thorpe's 195cm) but Popov weighs in at a skinny 90kg, while van den Hoogenband is a mere 73kg. The conventional wisdom is that a man of 100kg is dragging too much weight through the water for world-class swimming, particularly over distances greater than 200m but that was BT (Before Thorpe). The young man from Syd- ney's southern suburbs has single-handedly changed the rules of swimming. He has shown a unique ability to har- ness such size and strength. In the past three years he has packed 10kg of muscle onto his 195cm frame and has swum ever faster. Frost predicts he will go through yet another growth spurt, emerging taller and heavier before he reaches his physical peak. But that power requires control It is the exceptional efficiency of his freestyle technique which creates such an awesome blend of speed and endurance. In this week's 800m final where he and Olympic 1500m champion Grant Hackett bettered Kieren Perkins' world record they were swimming side by side at the same speed through aU but the last 100m. Yet Hackett took 38 strokes for every minute, compared with Thorpe's 33 strokes at a stroke length of almost three metres. Hackett was expending much more energy for the same result and that showed in the last 100m as Thorpe unleashed the power he had stored through the first half of the race. Until the last few laps he was barely using his legs, which are commonly regarded as his greatest weapon. There is a fine balance in swimming between the pull and the kick. Thorpe's kick is awesome, other swimmers have reported being thrown about in his wake, but Frost argues he is not leg-dominated "He's got such a wonderful balance to his stroke. He is a much better than average kicker but he's very strong in the upper body." The other crucial component of Thorpe's technique is his exceptional flexibility. Frost said Thorpe was extremely supple, even as an eight-year- old, and they have worked hard to retain that flexibility while his muscles have developed. His training regime includes a substantial stretching program which most recently has incorporated yoga exercises. The widely-held opinion among Australia's swimming fraternity is that Thorpe can now swim any distance he likes, from 100m to 1500m. Perkins would like to see Thorpe try for his 1500m world record but if he takes the challenge he will have to do it soon. Frost believes as Thorpe grows he will continue to gain power but that will eventually undermine his endurance and even his signature event, the 400m, may suffer. That is why the coach has predicted he will eventually become the world's best 100m swimmer. Whichever way he goes, Thorpe is going to be the big man in swimming for years to come.
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