Grant Hackett had an inkling that something was not quite right with his great rival Ian Thorpe. The Australian swimming greats would sometimes room together at team camps and international competitions which could produce some awkward moments, given that Thorpe was always one or two strokes ahead of Hackett in 200 and 400 metre freestyle races, the events in which Thorpe secured his fame with Olympic gold medals and world records.
I think it takes absolute strength and character to be courageous and come out and actually admit these sort of problemsBut after Thorpe revealed in his autobiography published in 2012 that he had battled depression and alcohol abuse, and reports on Friday that he had checked into rehab for his problems after a fall on Wednesday night - although this has yet to be confirmed by his management company - Hackett now understands that some of the surprisingly downbeat comments Thorpe made after famous victories masked a serious problem.
Ian Thorpe (right) and teammate Grant Hackett celebrate winning the men's 400-metre freesyle final at the 2001 FINA World Swimming Championships."I sort of knew," Hackett said.
A News Corp Australia report on Friday stated that the swimming great was injured in a fall earlier this week and claimed he seeking help for depression and alcohol abuse.
Hackett said, if true, Thorpe should be admired for facing his demons.
"I think it takes absolute strength and character to be courageous and come out and actually admit these sort of problems, especially when you have been such a revered character in sport and known for your mental and physical strength," the dual Olympic gold medallist said.
Hackett said he began to appreciate the pressure that Thorpe felt in the public eye during a conversation in which he revealed the toll the lead up to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games had taken. Thorpe was disqualified from the 400 freestyle after false starts at Olympic trials. He was eventually reinstated to his pet event after Craig Stevens gave up his berth with Thorpe going on to defend his Olympic title.
"I think over time those things, when you're a naturally introverted person, can add up and be quite challenging to deal with and then you transition out of sport and you lose that sense of community, that real team feeling, that real strong sense of purpose that you had," Hackett said.
"... It's not a transition many people are ready for and it is difficult and it's hard and you've got to have good support around you, regardless if your high profiled or not, to make that transition successfully.
"I think Ian's had difficulty in that and obviously coming in and out of the sport again (with his failed comeback attempt to make the 2012 London Olympics), has probably exasperated some of the issues that he was struggling with and my heart certainly goes out to him as one of his closest rivals but more so as a friend."
Former Australian backstroker, and now Swimming Australia board member, Nicole Livingstone agreed that more needed to be done to help sportspeople to adjust to their post-career lives, with few outside the sporting community understanding what has been left behind.
"Not many people in the world have had an athletic career like Ian Thorpe and the heights of Ian Thorpe," Livingstone said.
"You have to get yourself prepared because when the adulation stops and it's quiet and there's not a lot of people around you, it's actually really difficult.
"I've had three children, I've done lots of things in media but to be really honest nothing ever compares to the feeling of what I had as an athlete and being on the Olympic podium, racing for Australia and representing Australia and racing at the Olympic Games. Nothing ever compares to that high.
"Some people chase that for the rest of their lives rather than understanding that was one part of your life and you may never reach that high or get that feeling again."
Thorpe has not been able to find a direction since his retirement in 2006, suffering failures in starting up media and business careers as well as attempting a number of university courses.
Livingstone said the 31-year old needed a purpose.
"He needs to find something to actually get stuck into," Livingstone said. "He needs that opportunity to feel that he is winning."
Former national head coach Alan Thompson, who did not have the opportunity to lead a team that included Thorpe after the swimmer withdrew from the 2006 Commonwealth Games because of illness, said officials had to ensure that young athletes, some of whom are thrust into the spotlight in their early teens, were equipped with the necessary skills to cope life's challenges.
"I think what it shows to sporting administrators is that we really do have to prepare our athletes better for post competition whether it be the coping mechanism for this type of issue or the preparation of life after their careers," said Thompson, who now works for NRL team Canterbury Bulldogs.
"It's the high profiled footy players or swimmers that get the attention, but underneath that there is probably a large number of people who have an issue that we probably don't hear about."
"Ian was on the Australian team from when he was 15 years of age (first international meet) and probably missed out on a lot of life skills that other people would have had growing up with through school and so forth and it's probably very difficult to come back to those things afterwards.
"I know that he tried university a few times, and a variety of things and I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure that these things occur and it's very difficult to do sometimes while you're in the prime of your career."
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/swimming/ian-thorpe-struggling-with-life-in-the-slow-lane-20140131-31rtv.html#ixzz2sJZXHjR9