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His nickname is the “Thorpedo” and there’s no question about its validity — Ian Thorpe bulleted his way to the top of competitive swimming’s elite, winning more Olympic gold than any other Australian, and has broken world records (both individually and as part of a team) 22 times.

Born in the western suburbs of Sydney, he first made headlines in 1997 when he was 14, joining the Australian team at the Pan Pacific competition in Fukuoka, Japan. There, he finished second to his new rival, Australian Grant Hackett, in the 400-meter freestyle. The next year, he dominated that event, taking gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2001 Fukuoka World Championships (where he swept six medals total) and at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

His first Olympics was the Sydney games, where he took home three gold medals and two silver. Thorpe’s success pitted him against America’s golden boy, Michael Phelps, creating a high-profile face-off for the 2004 Olympics. In Athens, he took two gold, a silver and a bronze, and set an Olympic record for the 200-meter freestyle.

Escaping the spotlight is hard for the 22-year-old. His 6-foot-4-inch, 231-pound frame and size 17 feet are accompanied by a proportionally large, but shy, smile. His interest in fashion and jewelry design creates an artistic side to the accomplished athlete, an attribute that makes him a more down-to-earth, boy-next-door date-able candidate for adoring fans around the world.