Ian Thorpe liked to do things on his terms. No surprise, then, that he retired from swimming at the seemingly so-much-more-to-prove age of 24.
Saying he was tired of endless training and looking for something better in his life, the five-time Olympic champion pulled the plug yesterday on a career that made his name synonymous with the sport's elite.
"You can swim lap after lap, staring at a black line, and all of a sudden you look up and see what's around," Thorpe told a packed media conference yesterday at a downtown hotel. "That's what it feels like to me."
Thorpe won the 200m and 400m freestyle events at the Athens Olympics -- which turned out to be the last major international meet of his career.
Since then, a planned yearlong break after Athens to overcome "mental fatigue," a bout of glandular fever which kept him out of the Commonwealth Games and minor injuries which affected his training regimen meant Thorpe and his size 17 feet have been missing from the world's pool decks for more than two years.
Yesterday, speaking haltingly at times, but mostly composed and sometimes joking, Thorpe sat alone before more than 100 journalists and photographers. He didn't mess around: within several minutes, he told the world he was quitting.
"As of 2:53 on Sunday afternoon, I decided I would not be swimming in the world championships," Thorpe said of the titles scheduled for March of next year in Melbourne. "I also made a very difficult decision that I am actually going to discontinue my professional swimming career."
Nicknamed the "Thorpedo," he is regarded as one of the best in the sport, winning 11 world titles and setting 13 long-course world records.
"It's been a tough decision to make," he added. "I had to pick a time, that was the time. None of my goals included breaking any more world records. I knew how to do it, but it wasn't as inspiring as it should have been."
Thorpe said there was nothing significant about the hour he chose to throw in the towel. But after years of checking the clock after each race, Thorpe could not resist the impulse to check the time at the moment he made up his mind.
"I needed a closing point," he said. "So I looked at my watch and that was the time. It's as simple as that."
Speculation had swirled around Thorpe for months about whether he planned to pull out of the world championships or quit the sport entirely.
Thorpe burst onto the swimming scene as a teenager and broke his individual long-course records between 1999 and 2002, becoming an international star after dominating the pool at the Sydney Olympics. He won three gold medals at the 2000 Games -- all in world record time -- and two silver medals.
"I was catapulted into the international limelight as a kid," he said. "I've reached all the dizzying heights of this sport," he added. "I've had a tremendous amount of success."
"I've also had setbacks -- the last round of them sent me to LA where I could focus on what I was doing with fewer distractions than I have here," he said.
Earlier this year, Thorpe went to train in California to escape the heavy media scrutiny at home, where he is hounded as a celebrity. Nevertheless, critical reports continued to surface in local newspapers questioning his physical fitness and dedication to the sport.
But Thorpe said he felt his fittest, physically, in a long time while training in the US and started to get "mentally fit," beginning to analyze his career and life.