At 15 years old, Ian Thorpe became the youngest world champion in history. By the time he competed in the 2000 Olympics, he had broken 10 world records. In Sydney, he took home three gold and two silver Olympic medals. Then he turned 18.
Achieving that level of success at such an early age compelled Thorpe to look outward and consider how he could wield his fame for good.
Reflecting on "The Responsibility of Success” was the focus of Thorpe’s recent visit to Stanford University’s Handa Center. The five-time Olympic gold medalist addressed a packed room of Stanford students, faculty, staff, and community members over lunch on Friday, May 6.
“I realized the power that each of us has as an individual,” Thorpe said, recounting how travelling the world to compete at a very young age forced him to grapple with questions of his own privilege in the face of abject poverty or other human rights abuses.
He thought it was important to first examine the human rights challenges occurring in his own backyard. So in 2000, Thorpe founded Fountain for Youth, a charity dedicated to raising awareness and funds to improve the lives of Australia’s Indigenous communities, particular children, through educational and cultural programs.
He has since expanded his issue areas to include the promotion of LGBTQ rights and combatting human trafficking.
Thorpe praised the International Olympic Committee’s decision in 2014 to include non-discrimination with regard to sexual orientation among its key principles, adding that sport is an “international language” that can transcend politics, borders, cultures, and ideologies.
“Countries know that if they win the rights to be the Olympic host, they may have to change their laws, even temporarily,” he said.
Later that afternoon, Thorpe switched gears to speak about his swimming career with Stanford’s men and women’s swim teams and coaches before taking a tour of Avery Aquatic Center.