all champions can be role models, says Thorpe
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[June 21, 2016]
By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Although Olympic
champions can make great role models, sports officials can't expect
all athletes to be angels in their pursuit of results, according to
Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has taken a hard line on
team culture at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, four years after their
London Games delegation was embarrassed by a number of unsavoury
incidents involving misbehaving athletes.
Several athletes have been put on watch-list ahead of the Games,
while the country's top tennis player Nick Kyrgios withdrew himself
from consideration after a row with the AOC over his behavior in the
Thorpe was a paragon of sportsmanship during a glittering swimming
in which he won five Olympic golds and 11 world titles but said it
was tough to expect all athletes to match sporting excellence with
"I prefer them to be good leaders but it's not a requirement,"
Thorpe told Reuters in an interview. "We want them to be good role
models, we want everyone to be perfect.
"But what happens if the athlete isn't perfect but they get the
results? Which one's more important? This is really difficult and
it's a difficult position for sports to be in."
Australia's Rio Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller has spear-headed the
AOC's culture imperative and publicly lashed Kyrgios and his David
Cup team mate Bernard Tomic for poor conduct.
Although only 21, Kyrgios has a long rap-sheet of abusing opponents,
umpires and fans, and was given a suspended ban by the men's tennis
circuit for making a lewd comment at twice grand slam champion Stan
Wawrinka during a match last year.
Tomic opted out of Rio, citing a "busy" playing schedule, after he
was castigated by Chiller and Tennis Australia for failing to offer
a shot on match point in defeat to Italian Fabio Fognini at the
Madrid Open last month.
The AOC's tough approach to discipline has drawn both praise and
condemnation in Australia, where some pundits have lamented the loss
of a possible medal chance with the withdrawal of world number 18
The player has defended his histrionics as competitive intensity and
Thorpe said it was hard for some athletes to rein in their
personalities lest it affect their performance.
[to top of second column]
Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe speaks during an interview with
Reuters in Mumbai, India, June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade
"I think there is a possibility to be both -- to be the champion and
be the good role model," added Thorpe, who will be a panelist for
broadcaster Star Sports during the 2016 Games.
"But if there is a different way of going out there to get your
performance where you have to behave in a particular way to motivate
yourself, and that's what's worked for you, do you compromise that
and go down the chart? It's difficult."
Thorpe was dismayed by Australia's swimming performance in London,
where they won only a single title and had their worst haul in the
pool in 20 years.
A post-Games review found a "toxic culture" had been allowed to
develop in the team and reported allegations of bullying and
drunkenness among other problems.
Australian swimming has since had a major governance overhaul and
top officials say the culture has been fixed in time for a better
showing at Rio.
"What was disappointing for a lot of us was that the (London) team
didn't represent the values that we have as well," Thorpe said.
"I feel we have a short time in the sport and because of the people
that have come before you, you respect that history and you look
after it so that you re-inspire younger people so that the legacy is
able to continue for years to come."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)
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