Swimmer Ian Thorpe, Australia’s most decorated Olympian, has called on national bodies to stop setting gold medal targets as it puts too much pressure on athletes.
Speaking at an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) summit on “Athlete Wellbeing” on Tuesday, the fives-times Olympic gold-medallist and 11-times world champion said the focus should be on athletes representing the country “well”.
“I don’t think it’s beneficial when sporting organisations are talking about how many gold medals we’ll win at a competition and that will be the highest number we’ve ever won,” the 35-year-old told the Beyond the Podium forum in Canberra.
“It puts an immense amount of pressure on athletes around something they have no control over.
“What I’d prefer to see happen is we know the athletes represent our communities, they’ll represent the diversity of this country and they’re going to represent it well, to the best of our ability, and that will lead to gold medals.”
The Australian Olympic Committee has set, but not met, a target of a top-five finish in the medals table at the last three Summer Games and individual sports have also made their own targets.
Thorpe won three gold and two silver medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, which made him the most successful athlete of the Games.
Despite his success, he revealed in a 2012 autobiography that he struggled with “crippling” depression throughout his career, self-medicating with alcohol and considering suicide on more than one occasion.