Swimming Great Ian Thorpe Battling 'Serious' Infection

PHOTO: Ian Thorpe watches on during day eight of the Australian Olympic Swimming Trials at the South Australian Aquatic & Leisure Centre, March 22, 2012 in Adelaide, Australia.

Australian swimming star Ian Thorpe is battling a serious infection that could knock him out of competitive swimming for good, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The five-time gold medalist is being treated with antibiotics after contracting the infection during shoulder surgery, according to his agent.

“He’s quite sick but that’s the situation,” Thorpe’s agent James Erskine told the AAP, calling the ordeal “bad luck.” “It’s serious but it’s not life-threatening.”

“From a competitive point of view, he will not be swimming competitively again, I don't think," Erskine added.

Thorpe earned three gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Games and another two in Athens four years later. He announced his retirement in 2006 at the age of 24 before attempting a comeback at national trials for the London Games, for which he failed to qualify.

In 2012, Thorpe published a memoir titled “This Is Me,” in which he described a battle with depression and alcohol abuse.

Thorpe had undergone “two or three” shoulder operations in the past two months, according to Erskine, who called the latest operation “major.”

“Infection is a longstanding and well-known risk of all surgical procedures,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “Even if the surgery goes perfectly and everyone does exactly what they should, you still have a risk of infection.”

Schaffner, who did not treat Thorpe, said the most common culprit in surgical wound infections is the bacterium staphylococcus, dubbed staph.

Some staph infections are resistant to the typical treatment, the antibiotic methicillin.

“Those infections are called methicillin-resistant, or MRSA,” Schaffner said, adding that other antibiotics can usually control the infection when administered quickly. “The prognosis is good if it’s caught early.”

It’s unclear whether the injury, the operation or the infection is to blame for Thorpe’s improbable return to competitive swimming.

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