Ian Thorpe in rehab - report

Ian Thorpe (AFP)
Ian Thorpe (AFP)

Sydney - Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe has been treated in a Sydney hospital for depression and alcohol abuse, a report said Friday, as fellow star Kieren Perkins urged more support for retiring sportspeople.

The five-time Olympic gold medallist, one of Australia's most recognised sporting figures, has struggled to adjust to life after swimming and with the disappointment of a failed effort to reach the 2012 London Olympics.

In a front page splash, The Sydney Daily Telegraph said the 31-year-old was injured in a fall earlier this week before his family sought medical help, with Thorpe admitted to hospital on Wednesday where he was treated for depression and alcohol abuse.

The newspaper said on its website later in the day that he checked out on Friday and was now being cared for by his mother.

Broadcaster Alan Jones is one of his closest associates and spoke to the swimming champion recently.

"Yes, it's serious but there's not a lot I can or want to add," Jones told the newspaper of the swimmer, who has also faced constant speculation about his sexuality.

"Ian is a beautiful person but he has difficulty recognising his problems."

Thorpe, who came out of retirement in 2011 in a bid to make the team for London but failed to qualify, released an autobiography in 2012 in which he admitted a struggle with depression and alcohol.

"Not even my family is aware that I've spent a lot of my life battling what I can only describe as crippling depression," he wrote.

"It's a terribly dark place in which to hide."

He added: "I suppose it was inevitable that I'd turn to other, artificial ways of managing my feelings, and I found alcohol."

Thorpe is Australia's most decorated Olympian with five gold medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games, with his extraordinary success attributed partly to his abnormally large feet and hands.

He became the first person to win six gold medals at one world championships, in 2001, among 11 world titles overall - along with 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals.

But the demands of a celebrity lifestyle and grinding training sat uncomfortably with Thorpe and he quit in 2006, dabbling in jewellery design and television after his retirement, before the failed comeback.

Fellow Australian Perkins, considered one of the greatest distance swimmers ever, said he was not surprised to hear of Thorpe's struggles.

"I was not surprised at all, I think it happens far more than we know, it's just that Ian is famous and getting attention," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"To get to that point with Ian is really quite sad but I'm also happy for him he's getting the right help that he needs."

Perkins, who is now in banking, said he also struggled to adjust to a post-swimming life and called for more support for athletes on their retirement from elite sport.

"I think there needs to be some cultural change to better support people through this and recognise that the fundamental change that someone goes through in their life when they retire from elite competitive sport is significant and is very difficult for all of us to contend with," he said.

"There would be many of hundreds, if not thousands of athletes that don't have the notoriety who are at any one time contending with the same things."

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