Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps — the two biggest swimmers of the 2000s.
Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps — the two biggest swimmers of the 2000s.

Thorpe’s revealing Phelps admission

AUSTRALIAN swimming great Ian Thorpe believes he could have reached even greater heights if Michael Phelps had been just a little bit older.

While less than three years separates Thorpe the pair only competed against each other at one Olympic Games as the Australian's Olympic career came to an end at 21 with five gold medals, three silver and one bronze to his name.

"I may regret saying this, but I kind of wish Michael Phelps was kind of a little bit older," Thorpe said on Australian Olympic teammate and swim coach Brett Hawke's podcast Inside with Brett Hawke . "It would have challenged me. I would have had someone else there."

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The pair did not cross paths at the 2000 Olympics, where a 15-year-old Phelps only competed in the 200m butterfly while Thorpe cleaned up in front of a partisan home crowd, picking up three gold and two silver medals.

By the time Athens came around a genuine rivalry between the two had formed.

Thorpe was swimming's greatest star but the hype around Phelps was genuine - the American had won six medals at the 2003 World Championships, beating Thorpe by two body lengths in the 200m medley.

Despite picking up silver in that race, Thorpe chose not to race in the 200m medley at Athens, putting his all into the freestyle events.

Swimming greats Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps.
Swimming greats Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps.

Phelps qualified for nine events at the 2004 Olympic Games, but ditched the 200m backstroke so he could focus on the 200m freestyle. The gauntlet had been thrown down. The American wanted to take on the world's best at his own game.

"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," Thorpe said.

"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?"

As good as it gets.
As good as it gets.

Phelps' decision to enter the 200m freestyle saw the birth of "the Race of the Century" as a who's who of swimming stepped up for the final.

Alongside Phelps and Thorpe, were Pieter van den Hoogenband - who had beat Thorpe by half a second at the 2000 Olympic Games - Klete Keller, Grant Hackett and Emiliano Brembilla.

In other words, six of the eight men on the starting blocks were Olympic medallists. The race did not disappoint.

While Thorpe and Phelps were the quickest off the blocks, van den Hoogenband went on to hold the lead at the 50, 100 and 150 mark. It was only after the last turn that Thorpe took the lead, holding onto it to the very end to set a new Olympic record.

Phelps would get revenge of sorts the following night as the US beat Australia to gold in the 200m freestyle relay

It was the last race Thorpe would ever compete in at an Olympic Games, while Phelps was just getting going, retiring in 2016 with a jaw-dropping 28 medals, including 23 gold.


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