king of swimmer レジェンドを打ち立てた選手 : イアン・ソープ

イアンソープさんは、オリンピックで多くの金メダルを獲得し、オーストラリアの選手では最多のメダルを誇るなど、オーストラリアを代表する水泳選手です。

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オーストラリアが誇る水泳界のスター

略歴を紹介すると、イアンソープさんは、1982年シドニー生まれで、15歳にして1998年の世界水泳パース大会の代表に選ばれました。地元開催だったこともあり、大声援の中レースを進め、400メートル自由形などで3つの金メダルを獲得するなど、若くして成功を収めています。

2000年のオリンピックは、イアンソープさんの地元シドニーでの開催ということもあり、その活躍が期待されると同時に相当なプレッシャーを抱えた中でのレースとなりました。

しかし、そのプレッシャーを跳ね除け、400メートル自由形など3つの種目で金メダルを獲得し、オーストラリアの英雄としての地位を確立することになります。

日本でイアンソープさんの名前が一気に有名になるのは、2001年の福岡大会でした。いくつも世界記録を塗り替え、それまで獲得していなかった200メートル自由形、800メートル自由形でも金メダルを獲得するなど、1つの大会で6つの金メダルを獲得し、日本においてイアンソープ旋風を巻き起こしました。

日本でのイアンソープ旋風で有名なのが、多くの番組にゲストとして出演したことや、日本の会社と飲料を共同開発したことなどで、水泳といえばイアンソープというように、あまりに有名な存在となりました。

日本の水泳選手は知らなくても、イアンソープは知っているという人も当時は多く、それだけの存在であったことがうかがえます。

予期せぬアクシデントからの復活

2001年の世界水泳福岡大会で6つの金メダルを獲得したイアンソープさんは、2003年の世界水泳バルセロナ大会でも活躍し、200メートル自由形、400メートル自由形などで3つの金メダルを獲得し、その力がいまだ衰えぬというところを見せ付けています。

シドニーオリンピック、福岡大会はまだ10代であり、2003年のバルセロナ大会は21歳であったことを考慮すれば、まだまだ伸び盛りという年齢です。

2004年のアテネオリンピックも視界良好という時に、予期せぬアクシデントがイアンソープさんを襲います。それが、アテネオリンピックの代表選考におけるトラブルです。

400メートル自由形のスタートをフライングし、失格となってしまい、落選してしまうということが発生しました。400メートル自由形は最も得意とする種目であり、世界水泳、オリンピックを加えれば4連覇するほど絶対王者として君臨していました。

イアンソープさんは、スタートの合図と周囲の騒音を勘違いしたというのを理由に、救済措置を求めましたが認められず、このままではアテネオリンピックに出場できないということになり、オーストラリア国内で騒動に発展し、イアンソープを代表にすべし、もしくはやり直すべきだという声が一気に上がりました。

そうした声を受け、2位だった選手が400メートル自由形の代表を辞退し、特例ということで400メートル自由形の代表になります。

もちろん、批判にもさらされることになりましたが、得意種目だったこともあり、雑音を跳ね除け、無事に金メダルを獲得し、2つの金メダルをゲットするなど、略歴を語る上で忘れられない出来事となっています。

早すぎた引退、後身の育成へ期待

2004年のアテネオリンピックではかなりのプレッシャーを跳ね除けましたが、その過程で精神的に参ったのも事実であり、2006年には24歳の若さで現役を引退し、道を譲ることになりました。

この頃には、イアンソープさんが樹立した世界記録は段々と破られていき、それまで水泳界のスターだった立ち位置も、マイケルフェルプス選手さんなどが出始め、日本でも忘れられた存在になりつつあったのもこの当時の傾向です。

2011年にはロンドンオリンピックでの復活を宣言し、現役に復帰したものの、水着などの改良で高速化が進み、自分が打ち出した記録では到底戦えないということがわかり、2012年3月の代表選考会で落選したことで、完全に現役を引退することになりました。

この時、イアンソープさんはまだ30歳であり、その間に1度引退するなど紆余曲折を経て、ようやく完全なピリオドが打たれました。

略歴を振り返ると、華々しい経歴、実績が並ぶ一方、その影には様々なトラブルや精神面での戦いが繰り広げられてきたということが後になってわかり、その大変さを多くの人が知り、同情の意を示しています。

イアンソープさんには、後身の育成というものが期待されており、オーストラリアからまたすごい選手が出てくることを願っている人も少なくありません。

個人的な活動としては、イアンソープ基金を立ち上げており、難病と戦う子供を支援する活動を行っています。

チャリティー活動を率先としてこなすなど、引退した後も精力的な活動を続けており、イアンソープさんの次の動きには、注目が集まるところと言えます。

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