An enthusiastic supporter at the Socceroos' Group D match against Ghana last Sunday in Rustenburg was none other than Australia's most-decorated Olympian, Ian Thorpe. Winner of five golds, three silvers and one bronze medal across two Olympic Games, the Sydneysider – who broke 22 world records during his illustrious swimming career – will forever be included in the pantheon of sporting greats.
Attending the adidas exhibition in Johannesburg, Thorpe said he was enjoying his time in the Rainbow Nation where he has come also to "to support the Socceroos". Having retired from swimming in 2006, Thorpe spends a good deal of his time working with charities and other philanthropic pursuits.
Like all Socceroo fans Thorpe has endured a rollercoaster South Africa 2010 campaign feeling the pain of a heavy 4-0 defeat against Germany, followed by the gallant 1-1 draw against group leaders Ghana – against whom Australia played the majority of the match with ten men. The 'Thorpedo' made the trip to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on Saturday to see that game and drink in some of the tournament's celebratory atmosphere.
"It is my first World Cup and I decided I would take the standard ticket, go through the crowds and do all that [fan] stuff," Thorpe told FIFA.com. "I'm glad I did and I would do it again. Even though it was Australia versus Ghana, there were people from all over the world at the game that were either supporting the two teams, or just football in general. It was a wonderful atmosphere and it's quite amazing how the world does come together for this game, and for the most part it was a wondrous experience... though it would have been more so if the result was a little bit different!"
To progress Australia now need to defeat Serbia in their final Group D match and hope Ghana beat Germany. Though friends with a number of the Socceroos, the 27-year-old has not been in contact with the squad deciding to let them "concentrate on what they need to do". Despite the fleeting nature of his visit to South Africa, Thorpe says he will return if "the Socceroos can pull off some wonderful results".
But for a momentous decision to focus on swimming as a youngster, the Ian Thorpe story may have turned out very differently. An eager player as a youngster for Milperra Lions and for his local school in western Sydney, the competing demands of playing multiple sports meant Thorpe was forced to make a choice and it is hard to argue that the decision was a correct one, although the size 17 feet would undoubtedly have come in handy on the football field.
"I was speaking to [Australia midfielder] Brett Emerton's dad the other day and he said he [Brett] had to make the same decision. Who knows, things could have been different and I could have been playing football here and he may have been still swimming, so who knows what could have happened!"