Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe was in rehabilitation for depression yesterday after a mixture of painkillers and anti-depressants left him disoriented on a Sydney street, highlighting the pressures facing elite athletes after retirement.
His manager, James Erskine, insisted no alcohol was involved, as the swimmer’s father suggested he faced months of treatment, but would “come out the other side.”
A “dazed” Thorpe, 31, was discovered by police attempting to get into a car near his parents’ house in the early hours of Monday and was taken to hospital for assessment.
It was his second recent visit to hospital, after falling and needing shoulder surgery last week. At that time, his management denied reports that he was also being treated for depression and alcohol abuse.
Erskine told Australian Broadcasting Corp that the five-time Olympic gold medalist was now receiving treatment for depression, a condition he has struggled with for years.
“He’d been taking prescribed drugs, painkillers for his shoulder and he’s also on prescription drugs for anti-depression... but it’s obviously a mixture of it, and that mixture made him disorientated because he was wandering around at three o’clock in the morning,” Erskine said.
Residents rang police after Thorpe tried to get into a car that he thought belonged to a friend.
“He became disorientated and he tried to get into what he thought was a friend’s car, but it wasn’t his friend’s car at all,” Erskine said.
As well as being open about his depression, Thorpe detailed a battle with alcohol in his 2012 autobiography, but Erskine said it was not a factor in Monday’s incident.
“There was no alcohol involved, he hadn’t been drinking or anything like that,” he said. “The hospital then suggested — or more than suggested, I think — that he should go into rehab for depression and that’s what’s happened.”
Thorpe’s father Ken told the Sydney Daily Telegraph he was optimistic his son would pull through.
“He is battling with his health issues at the moment and he is having a tough time, but hopefully in six months’ time he will be out the other side,” Ken Thorpe said, reportedly choking back tears.
Swimming Australia president John Bertrand, a former America’s Cup-winning skipper, said the organization would do all it could to support Thorpe.
“He has a very serious illness and we will endeavor to give all the support we can, through his friends, through his peers,” Bertrand said.
Thorpe is Australia’s most decorated Olympian with five gold medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games, with his success attributed partly to his abnormally large feet and hands.
He became the first person to win six gold medals at one world championships in 2001 — among 11 world titles overall — along with 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals.
However, the demands of a celebrity lifestyle and grinding training saw him quit in 2006, before a failed comeback attempt to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
While most sports in Australia run an Athlete Career and Education Program to help prepare for life after retirement, Thorpe has not been able to find a direction, dabbling in jewelry design and television, while attempting a number of university courses.
Former long-time rival Grant Hackett told Fairfax Media Thorpe was naturally introverted and thrived in the team environment, which he lost when he retired.