Ian Thorpe: I wish Michael Phelps was a bit older

Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps
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Ian Thorpe, the world’s best swimmer before Michael Phelps came along, reflected on his rivalry with Phelps, his early retirement and more on a podcast with Australian Olympic teammate and swim coach Brett Hawke published Monday.

Thorpe won his first world title at age 15 in 1998, then earned three gold medals and two silvers as one of the most scrutinized athletes at the Sydney Games in 2000.

His Olympic career ended at age 21 in 2004, when he won another two gold medals, including the “Race of the Century” 200m freestyle final over Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Phelps. Phelps was 19 at the time.

“I may regret saying this, but I kind of wish Michael Phelps was kind of a little bit older,” Thorpe said on the podcast. “It would have challenged me. I would have had someone else there.”

Phelps revered Thorpe’s ability to perform under pressure as a teenager. Phelps also took motivation from Australian swim coach Don Talbot waving off suggestions that he could challenge Thorpe’s supremacy in the early 2000s.

Phelps’ ascension compared to Thorpe showed at the 2003 World Championships. Phelps, among three individual titles, won the 200m individual medley in 1:56.04, taking 1.9 seconds off his own world record at the meet. Thorpe earned silver in an Australian record, but a full two body lengths and 3.62 seconds behind.

Thorpe didn’t swim the 200m IM at the 2004 Olympics, but Phelps ventured into his territory by entering the 200m free and coming away with a hard-earned bronze in an American record.

“I have the utmost respect for Michael, what he was doing in [individual] medley, but then when he started doing it in freestyle as well, that is when I really went, wow, he was extraordinary,” said Thorpe, who called van den Hoogenband his toughest competitor (Thorpe and van den Hoogenband dueled more often than Thorpe and Phelps). “I wish that, you know, our careers overlapped a little bit more than what they did. … It’s like, be careful what you wish for, right?”

Thorpe intended to go for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after a break from swimming, but he never again swam on the major international stage, announcing retirement in 2006.

“There was no privacy around me being able to train,” Thorpe said. “When it came that I was getting papped at training, I was like, if I can’t even have this to myself, I don’t want the other part of it.”

Thorpe also said that he wanted to train through the Olympic cycle and skip the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, but that “quite a few people” said he needed to race worlds if he had 2008 Olympic intentions.

“I moved on,” Thorpe said. “I made a decision that, yeah, I wouldn’t swim anymore because I wanted to feel like I had my life back.”

Thorpe’s enduring greatness can be measured in the fact that his 400m free personal best from 2002 remains the second-fastest time in history, bettered only in 2009 by .01 by German Paul Biedermann, who was racing in a now-banned super suit.

But Thorpe said it’s the men’s 200m freestyle that has become stagnant. None of the top 11 times in history were recorded in the time since the 2012 Olympics. Thorpe’s best time — from 2001 — would have won each of the last four world championships and the 2016 Olympic title.

“Basically, everyone in the world is swimming the 200m freestyle the wrong way,” he said. “You cannot swim easily for 150 meters, and then go into a sprint. I don’t care who your coach that is telling you that, you’re going to limit what time you can potentially do. At the moment, while the entire field sits across at the same speed, anyone who steps up in this race will win it if they’re within that realm. If you’re in the final at the moment, you can win at the Olympics next year. It’s about putting more speed into the earlier part of it, and it’s about making yourself hurt more. You have to be willing to deal with the pain that is going to exist for the last 50 meters.”

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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