Role models for both their athletic prowess and achievements and their charitable work, Olympian champion swimmers Mark Spitz and Ian Thorpe provided inspiration for the audience at the start of Day 2 of Doha GOALS with tales of determination, highs and lows and the magic and thrill of sporting success.
With 20 Olympic medals between them, the swimmers were the icons of their individual decades, but both came in to the sport by accident rather than design, Thorpe being allergic to chlorine found in pool water and Spitz smaller in stature than the average sprint swimmer.
While their natural abilities shone through, Thorpe stressed the importance of developing mental focus as well as physical practice: “When I train, I imagine what is it like when I win, how it is going to feel,” he said.
For Spitz, who originally trained for the 1500-metres, turning to multiple events gave him an opportunity to prove his coach wrong: “It gave me a vision, to aim for the magic and wonder of never having done it before – destiny is not a matter of chance and you have to be pro-active,” he recommended to the students in the audience.
While reaching the pinnacle of their sports, both swimmers revealed their passion for the activity over and beyond the aim for lucrative success: “There were no licensing deals 40 years ago, and I swam then for enjoyment and accomplishment,” revealed Spitz, who got his first taste of financial reward with an offer of US$50,000 for a bare-chested photograph of his seven Olympic gold medals in 1972.
For Thorpe, prize money was something to give away with income coming from principled commercial endorsements, and he revealed his ambition to continue training for a come-back from retirement despite failing to make the Australian Olympic team this summer: “I want another chance to fall back in love with my sport – I love the beauty of being in the water,” he said.
For their legacy, both champions have used their fame and fortunes to inspire others and help those less fortunate, with Spitz providing an icon for Michael Phelps to later surpass his Olympic haul and also contributing to charitable work to provide young people in areas of instability with sporting opportunities.
For Thorpe, his humanitarian work was recognised just two days ago (December 10), when he was presented with the Australian Human Rights Medal for 2012 for his work the indigenous people in the country through his Fountain of Youth charity.
Concluding, Thorpe said such charitable efforts were something where everyone could contribute: “We all need to do this, it is a case of hands up, not hands out … and we can help solve some of the world’s issues.”