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On The Darker Side Of Blackouts

Feb 24, 2012  - Craig Lord

Comment:

Media blackouts are dubious things at the best of times - and when it comes to Australian media and Ian Thorpe, appeals to understanding stretch wisdom to the width of a band about to snap. 

Down Under today the media is full of the following from The Australian: "The five-time Olympic champion has been declared off limits to the media at his final competition before next month's Olympic trials in Adelaide. The move is in sharp contrast to 12 months ago when Thorpe had the chief executive of a sponsor formally announce his sporting comeback to the nation. Though he is yet to reach his lofty standards of the past, interest remains intense in the star of the Sydney and Athens Olympics - even at this weekend's low-key meet in Zurich." 

Thorpe has, in fact, been off bounds for a while now, particularly to those who might press on issues of swimming and ambition in the context of all that has been, all that is and all that might be. 

Early on, the 2004 Olympic 200m and 400m free champion gave interviews to various media, including L'Equipe, the French sports paper that broke the news of "an adverse finding" in an anti-doping case that ultimately led to Thorpe being exonerated, and included a whole range of media available to plug the sponsor and the Dubai connection that had nothing to do with world-class swimming from the very outset of the comeback saga. 

At the same time, Thorpe and entourage have politely put off specific approaches by Australian and overseas media until a later date, while requests from the same media group by two reporters have resulted in a "yes" from the European representative and a "no" from HQ back home in Australia. 

Those rejected include Australian reporters who are told that the big man can't talk to them because he has a media deal with one particular media group. That "deal" has not generated a single article that I have found of interest or value in terms of Thorpe's swimming, while an article written by Nicole Jeffery of The Australian last year when she spoke to Gennadi Tourestski in Switzerland, remains the most informative of all sources on the sporting comeback. 

The reporter, who has followed Thorpe since he was almost a teen and written some of the kindest, most positive things about Thorpe down the years, had to watch the man swim but was not allowed to interview him. All the way from Australia for a nod without word. 

Still, observation proved mightier than the spoken word. 

"Ian Thorpe will concentrate fully on his two starts and will not be available for interviews," said a statement on the Swiss Swimming Federation's website. Aimed at those who might show up locally, the statement overlooks the global nature of the man in its midst. Telling the Zurich Bugle to shove off is one thing, telling the Aussie media to do so when "their man" is in the pool is another. 

Soon, Thorpe will be back home beyond the control of an authority without authority over a swimmer from another nation. For now, three weeks out from Aussie trials, Thorpe will race 100m and 400m freestyle on Saturday, the eight-lapper a training exercise aimed at 200m speed, his best chance for a London 2012 berth the 4x200m relay - as things stand. 

Given that the huge focus on the man in a previous swimming life was part of the reason why he left for another life, the desire for control is understandable. It is also easy to appreciate that the man has nothing more to say this side of a world-class posting in the ranks of the world's best. 

Whether the type and timing of control has been helpful this time round remains open to question. We will know more about the new swimming life of Thorpe when he takes to his blocks in Adelaide mid-March. Then, the very pressure that a media blackout may have been designed to ease could well be all the greater simply because that's the nature of lids screwed on too tightly.