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[SFS Journal Smile Leaders]

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Ian Thorpe

Something more valuable than Gold Medals

Since capturing the berth for the Australian national team at the youngest age of 15, Ian Thorpe has made remarkable success as a top swimmer, enjoying sparkling jewel in the crown of Gold Medals. Most of Japanese know his spectacular achievements. But maybe a few know what he dedicates himself to on the ground - something that he believes is more valuable than Gold Medals.

In the home country of the great swimmer that is so-called developed country and used to host a Olympic Games, there are areas that he cares. The worldly recognized youngest swimmer Ian Thorpe serves as an educator for Australia’s native Aborigines whose lives are totally different from those for normal Australians and who are suffering from poverty and disease. He was only 18 when he launched his own NPO Fountain For Youth about 10 years ago.

He mentioned his mind and thoughts for his activities during his speech at Beyond Sport Summit in July last year;

“In my travels competition took me to places where sometimes I was met with abject poverty, whilst I simply swum. Why was my life so blessed when others just by fate had less opportunity than I? I guess I witnessed at a very young age how sport is an international language, a language that transcended borders, boundaries, cultural ideology, politics and even socio economic disadvantage.”

This is his motivation for his philanthropic activities. He added without hesitation;

“I believe this is more important than Gold Medals”

He was prepared.

During the exclusive interview at the same event that was held in late September in Chicago Ian further explained his mind.

“Sports is great. You can feel glory and move people. But when it comes to people who suffer from daily life, it’s totally different story. If I see people suffering and dying, I need to help them. My achievements as athlete helps me to do such activities, and I thought I can make the most of it to help people.”

Meanwhile, the discussion of the potential of the sport as a social change is gaining the momentum in global sports. At the SportAccord 2010 in Dubai in April, Ian mentioned that;

“To change society it is important for us to cooperate with business and political world.”

Normally this is the phrase that can be seen on newspaper and heard at business seminars. Things changed, and even an Olympic medalist may say. During the exclusive interview Ian added to this comment;

“I think the society can be often seen as a market, a groups of consumers, and the companies move first responding to the market, and then government moves to respond to the companies. So sports world needs to carefully watch those situations and think about how the sport can be used by them.”

It might be this integrity that led him to the series of glory, not only the skills and toughness in mind. Even if someone else experience the same thing as his and achieved greatest records as he did, no other top-level athletes can shift the career like Ian. Many top athletes including Andre Aggasi contribute to society but Ian is in his only 20s and he has firm belief and persistently pursue his goals, which can be done by the owner of the top-notch mindset.

Speaking of social contribution by athletes, it is often discussed whether it is “Obligation” or “Responsibility” or “Opportunity” for the athlete. Of course there is no right answer and no need to define, and for Ian it seem that his activities are something that he simply hoped naturally. The public gaze that object his decision to retire does not mean anything to him. So gallant.

This year at the Beyond Sport Summit he was joined by Michael Johnson to speak about the athletes’ second career. When Mr. Johnson mentioned “The first half of my life was all about competition. I want to spend my second life to achieve my personal goal,” Ian nodded deeply. The personal goals that the top athletes are pursuing in their second career. - It sounded as if it were not something that only selected people can achieve, but something that general people can reach and that is more important than Gold Medals.

Interview: Mie Kajikawa