His size 17 shoes tread softly on the lush carpet of the Aspire Dome, the sports hub of Qatar. He moves, talks and smiles in a deliberate way, with no trace of aggression despite an imposing 1.95m frame.
After all, Ian Thorpe has always been more comfortable in water. The five Olympics
and 11 world championships titles only tell a part of the young Aussie swimming
The constant public glare since his early teens leading to loneliness and depression, his quitting the sport and then making an unsuccessful comeback bid before the London Olympics chronicle the turmoil.
But 'Thorpedo' is at peace now. Besides his TV work, he relishes the work he does with children from Australia's indigenous communities through his charity, Fountain for Youth.
It won him the Australian human rights medal a few days ago. The 30-year-old was one of those who headlined the inaugural GOALS (Gathering of All Leaders in Sport) forum in Doha and gave his perspective as an elite sportsman. He spoke to HT on the sidelines.
Helping athletes manage themselves after they finish
What is important is whilst the athlete is in the sport at the top level, even in the early stages, he should already be preparing for life after the sport. Athletes should continue to be studying, look at work, at having other interests and a better balance rather than having just their athletic performance because that comes at a great cost. You also have to value other parts of life because when your life is based only on your performance, when that fails, you feel like you have failed.
On whether it is realistic to expect such a balanced approach by athletes
We can look at it the other way around, if you don't do it you are not going to last very long. If you are looking at longevity in sports you have to have a balance. Coaches and officials need to recognise this rather than us just talk about this.
On his interaction with current swimmers
I have a rule that my phone number is available to anyone on swimming teams and people from around the world ask me questions. I give my advice on what I think, I just tell people 'don't talk about it' because my advice is my opinion. And it is for that person to benefit. It's not that I am embarrassed by what I have to say, but I want people to feel I can be trusted and that they can trust me.
The challenge after top swimmers end careers in their 20s
If you are prepared for it, it is okay. Finishing your career at such a young age means you have your whole life ahead of you. It can be overwhelming. But then you have enough time to prepare to have another career where you can have more opportunities. But again, it is that preparation that matters.
On retirement talk in Australia and India, around Ponting and Tendulkar
Ricky has retired, and when I look at Sachin Tendulkar, cricket will always be a part of him. He will always be a part of cricket. If he decides it is his time to walk away, he would be applauded for what a tremendous career he has had. If he decides to continue, it also isn't a bad thing. But there is a time and I think we forget that lifespan in sport is limited and you can never get it back. When you get to a certain age in sport it is not physically possible anymore. You have to appreciate that part as well.
The writer's trip was sponsored by the GOALS Forum