Having found out exactly what went on in Zurich last week, Australia’s head swimming coach has upgraded his assessment of Ian Thorpe from “terrible” to “I wouldn’t rule him out.”
On paper, Thorpe’s performance in his last hit-out in Zurich before his comeback boils down to Australia’s Olympic selection trials in a fortnight, was worrying.
But, after speaking with Swimming Australia’s performance science manager Bernard Savage, head coach Leigh Nugent said Thorpe’s 100m freestyle time of 52.28 seconds and 400m swim of 3 minutes and 59.48 seconds needed closer examination.
“Bernard Savage was there and he got the impression from Ian that he didn’t really want to swim there,” Nugent said.
“In the 100, his goggles came off and that did him in a bit psychologically.
“In the 400, he never raced for performance, he raced it more as a cruising swim, and he felt pretty good about that.
“Typical of those things when we’re not there and we’re not privy to strategies, we often read the wrong things into the result.
“If you had have asked me last Sunday, I would have gone `oh it’s terrible’.
“Bernard told me he was in pretty good shape and appears to be swimming very well and he seemed very good psychologically.”
The selection trials start in Adelaide on March 15 and Thorpe is yet to show his comeback is worthy of a five-time Olympic gold medallist, but Nugent was still reluctant to write the 29-year-old off.
His best chance of going to a third Olympics remains the six-man 4x200m freestyle relay squad with a very slim chance of forcing his way into the individual event.
“Ian has been such an outstanding athlete, it probably doesn’t matter what I think and what I see,” Nugent said.
“The guy has the capability to do the unexpected. I wouldn’t rule him out of anything.
“His greatest odds are to make the relay but as an individual, who knows?”
Thorpe will be afforded no special treatment at the trials and will have to finish in the top six to earn a place in the relay squad.
But even then he might not be guaranteed a berth to the Games, with a maximum of 12 relay only swimmers allowed in the team across the six relays.
Nugent said Beijing triple gold medallist Stephanie Rice was still restricted in her right shoulder following arthroscopic surgery in December but has been able to train consistently in the past month.
He was confident Rice would get through the trials in the 400m individual medley, but she faces a sterner challenge in the 200m medley from Alicia Coutts and Emily Seebohm.
“The further she gets away from that arthroscopy, the better it’ll be,” Nugent said.
“Hopefully she can qualify for the team, which I would expect her to do, and then improve between the trials and the Olympics.”