| Ian Thorpe with new coach Tracey Menzies in Sydney on Friday. (Reuters)
Sydney: Ian Thorpe’s decision to leave the man who had coached him since he was a child has been criticised by some of the biggest names in Australian swimming.
Thorpe ended weeks of speculation about his sporting future when he announced he had split with his long-time mentor Doug Frost and joined Tracey Menzies, a 29-year-old art teacher who had worked as Frost’s assistant.
Thorpe explained that he had decided to part ways with the man who had guided him to 13 individual long-course world records and a staggering collection of gold medals because he was losing his enthusiasm for the sport and needed a change.
But some of Australia’s biggest names — including Olympic legend Dawn Fraser and former national head coach Don Talbot — have criticised the 19-year-old’s decision.
Fraser, one of only two swimmers to win the same event at three separate Olympics, told Australian Radio on Friday: “I’d hate to think that Ian is getting a little too big for his boots. Because, you know, you can fall into that path when you’ve achieved so much.”
Talbot said he was worried that Thorpe might have jeopardised his future by sacking the 58-year-old Frost for the relatively inexperienced Menzies.
“It’s a big call and maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Talbot told reporters. “Maybe he hasn’t thought of all of the full ramifications.
“She’s getting into a learning curve that she’s never experienced before. She’s a very capable coach but, at the international level, she’s had no experience with a swimmer of that calibre and all the stresses that brings.”
Thorpe said he made up his mind to sack Frost after this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Although Thorpe won a record six gold medals and one silver in Manchester and lowered his own world record for the 400m freestyle, he was still unhappy with his performances.
But Australia’s current head coach Alan Thompson said Thorpe’s performances in Manchester made his decision to part from Frost all the more bewildering. “I’m surprised that somebody who breaks a world record leaves their coach,” Thompson said.
Thorpe, who joined Frost when he was just nine years old, conceded that he was taking a risk by leaving him but believed the change would do him good.
“I don’t know that I’ve made the right decision,” he said. “I feel certain that I have but, until I experience it and compete in a new environment — a new atmosphere — I’m not certain how I’m going to swim.”
Menzies, who teaches at the same Sydney high school that Thorpe and Australian cricketers Steve and Mark Waugh all attended, said she was confident she could raise Thorpe’s performances to new levels.
“There’s several things I could do,” she said. “When you look at a stroke technique, not any athlete is perfect. They can always improve.”