Michael Phelps might pick up from Ian Thorpe, expresss Pieter van nook Hoogenband: That's the view of Dutch star Pieter van den Hoogenband, the man who swam beside both US star Phelps and Thorpe in the "race of the century" at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
He believes that while Phelps has won more gold medals than Thorpe, he has much to learn from the Australian about star quality. "As a swimmer and as a personality, Thorpie brought the whole level of swimming to the next step," van den Hoogenband said yesterday. "Phelps is of course a fantastic swimmer, but Thorpie was also creating new opportunities and he was not just a swimmer, he was a personality. And Phelps needs to make that step because it will be good for swimming.
"Hopefully Thorpie can show him how to create those things. I think there is more in Phelps (to be brought out). When you are the greatest Olympian ever you are not just a swimmer anymore. There are still no big multi-nationals that have contracts with Phelps or doing things with swimming because of him.
"But when Thorpie was in his best years there was always swimming on TV, always a buzz around the sport. And he was always fun. He was not fun to race, because he was always very tough, but out of the pool he was fun. With Thorpie, Grant Hackett, Michael Klim, that generation of swimmers, we had a great time."
Van den Hoogenband was one of Thorpe's greatest rivals, the pair racing against each other for six years. The rivalry culminated in the 200m final at the 2004 Athens Olympics -- dubbed the "race of the century" -- in which the Australian won gold, triumphing over van den Hoogenband and Phelps.
The Dutchman, speaking at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi, said he thinks Thorpe can now step up to win the 100m in what could be another clash with Phelps. "I think he can win the 100m freestyle," van den Hoogenband said. "That would be something. To have the 400m, 200m, 100m Olympic gold medal is history, that's amazing.
"I'm one of the few swimmers that was always next to him and when you're always next to him . . . you know he's special. "When you're racing Thorpie, his technique, he's a special, special athlete."Van den Hoogenband said sportsmen often made comebacks for the wrong reasons, but he believed Thorpe had a chance to do "something special".
"I was watching the press conference when he announced his comeback and there was a twinkling in his eye and he was ready to go," he said. "And he's still young enough to do it," he added, skirting around the fact that, at 28, Thorpe is the same age as 32-year-old van den Hoogenband was when he retired in 2008.