SYDNEY - Tributes were flooding in for Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe after he announced his retirement today at the age of 24.
Political figures, former swimmers, coaches and officials all joined in acknowledging the achievements of a man who won 11 world titles, five Olympic gold medals and set 13 individual long-course world records in a glittering career.
Australia's Dawn Fraser, one of just two female swimmers to win the same event at three Olympics, said Thorpe deserved to remembered as the best of all time.
"He rates as the greatest swimmer in the world as far as freestyle swimming is concerned," Fraser said.
"I was hoping he may have gone on to Beijing (2008 Olympics) to do the three events in a row and I guess in a way I'm sad.
"But that's selfish of me because he's made that decision for himself, he doesn't want to put himself under any more pressure, and I say 'thank you very much for what you've done'."
Shane Gould, who won three gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics before retiring at 16, said Thorpe would be missed but she understood his decision to retire prematurely.
"It's going to be sad because he was an inspirational performer and just so theatrical and just a glory to watch in his black suit and his rippling muscles and his focused attention," Gould said.
"He could probably swim faster and I probably could have swum faster and won more medals but look, swimming's just swimming, there's a whole life out there.
"He's really saying ... I achieved all that I wanted to achieve and I felt that there was more in life to experience and do. There comes a time when that curiosity and that instinct is triggered."
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said Thorpe's achievements would stand the test of time.
"In 50 years from now Australians will still marvel at the feats of Ian Thorpe," Coates said.
"He has been a great champion, a great inspiration for young Australians and a fine ambassador for his country."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard described him as a remarkable swimmer and "a good bloke".
"His retirement is an enormous loss to Australian swimming but it's tough, he started early, all swimmers do," Howard said.
"Millions of Australians will remember his wonderful individual performances."
Doug Frost, who coached Thorpe from when he was eight until they split in 2002, said he knew he was destined for greatness the first moment he saw him.
"A great many people questioned me at the time as to why I was investing so much time in this young kid," Frost said.
"I could see the exceptional natural talent he had and his dedication and commitment to doing everything in his power to be the best. I had no doubt he would achieve every goal he set himself."
Thorpe became a national hero in Australia when he won three golds medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but transcended his sport and nationality to become a truly global star.
He was especially popular in Japan, where he won a record six gold medals at the 2001 world championships, forcing team officials to employ bodyguards to protect him from the hordes of fans.
"It's really too bad. I didn't believe it when I heard it," said Koji Ueno, the director of Japan's national swim team.
"That we can't see him swim anymore is really a shame. Especially at the world championships next March, I'd looked forward to some good competition."