Ian Thorpe was the second biggest star of the Sydney Olympics, and he’s fast becoming one the biggest of the Tokyo Games.
Who among us casual, once-every-major-meet, swim fans doesn’t pine for the elite analysis he’s providing on Channel Seven’s swimming-heavy coverage of the Olympics in their favourite week-in-week-out code?
As an athlete there was a lot of expectation on Thorpe’s young shoulders and he delivered time and again. Now, at 38, and 21 years after his first Olympic gold medal swim, he has the nation in his thrall once more.
Each session has thrown new light on his talents, be it predicting times and winners with freakish accuracy, to describing techincal minutiae in ways that make swimming fascinating to those of us who thought we were just here to enjoy a bit of mindless Aussie gold.
On Thursday, the Channel Seven socials shared an almost 10 minute ‘clip’ of Thorpey deconstructing Ariare Titmus’s state of mind and body which became a remarkable segment that took the viewers through the final 15 metres of Caeleb Dressel’s 100m freestyle victory over Kyle Chalmers.
Who watches a 10 minute clip of anything on the internet? When it’s Thorpey talking about my eighth favourite sport, apparently I do.
Thorpe pinpoints exactly why it was Dressel who gained a .06 second advantage for gold, focussing on a short stretch where the American puts his head down and fangs it, forgoing a breath, to stave off the faster-finishing Australian.
Thorpe’s analysis is bright and colourful but intellectual too. And the segment shows off his versatility.
When asked by host Hamish McLachlan what it is like, being there, metres away from an Olympic gold, gasping for breath, Thorpe’s response stops you cold.
“At this point, when you take a breath, it feels like razor blades are cutting through your lungs.”
Who else can't get enough of @IanThorpe's analysis ????♀️
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 29, 2021
His summary of those last decisive metres, the stroke patterns and power shifts, helps you understand how it was won and lost, and elevates an already exciting race to something more momentus, surely the aim of every ananlyst on every sport, everywhere.
Thorpe was great too, on the peculiar experience that Titmus is currently going through.
Having won her first, and quickly after, a second Olympic gold medal, Titmus seemed angry with herself early Thursday when the 4x200m relay team she led off finished with bronze. Titmus clearly felt she had let her team down, even though the first three teams went under the previous world record.
Titmus was back in the pool for the night session and qualified for the 800 metres final, but made her state of mind and body clear.
“I’m absolutely buggered,” she said. “Honestly I’m exhausted. I keep thinking back to Beijing, it was the same as this morning’s heats. Michael Phelps won eight golds. I have done two and I’m wrecked.
“It puts into perspective for me how amazing he was.”
Again, Thorpe was superb in detailing exactly what Titmus was living through right now, having accomplished everything she had dream of early in the meet and now having to fight on through muscle soreness and mental exhaustion too.
“There’s a toll that comes with that,” says Thorpe. “We call her the Terminator but we also see another side to her.
“How drained she must be from the wins, the success, the highs that you get from that. And trying to bring yourself back down to where you can race at your best is a difficult thing to do.”
But of course there’s layers to it, which Thorpe shows us as well in a discussion of what the size of the bubbles under Titmus’s hands during the race tell us about her levels of fatigue and lapses of technique.
And there is a clearly an appetite for this. Ian Thorpe is still a popular champion.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but Thorpe’s analysis has been one of the highlights of the Olympics so far.
— Sage Dane (@SageDane) July 29, 2021
Brilliant hearing @IanThorpe break down the race stroke by stroke, describing how small adjustments, breathing, drag from adjacent lanes, etc play into the result. Who knew what bubbles near the swimmers hand meant before now? Insightful analysis.
— Shaken&stirred (@Shakenstirred8) July 29, 2021
@IanThorpe 's commentary & analysis of the swimming in Tokyo is only marginally behind his greatness as a swimmer. Sign him up for life NOW!!
— sues (@sjs2222) July 29, 2021
Footy commentators should take note and be ashamed I would of thought.
— Robbo (@a56e28ee77b2410) July 29, 2021