Troubled Hackett still 'perfect' mentor, says Jones

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 18, 2016 10:15 PM

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Troubled Olympic gold medalist Grant Hackett can still be a good mentor to Australia's swimmers at the Rio de Janeiro Games, former breaststroke queen Leisel Jones has said.

Long distance swimming great Hackett, who missed out on qualifying for the Rio Games last week, was questioned by police over an altercation with a passenger on a flight to Melbourne on Sunday.

The 35-year-old, who won back-to-back Olympic 1,500 meters freestyle titles at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, issued a public apology on Monday after the male passenger claimed the swimmer had pinched his nipple and "groped" his chest.

At national trials in Adelaide last week, the Olympic team's head coach Jacco Verhaeren had said he wanted Hackett to accompany the team to Rio as a mentor.

Swimming Australia declined to comment on Hackett's role with the team, but triple Olympic champion Jones urged the governing body not to sever ties with her former team mate.

"I hope they keep him on. Even if it's just to highlight how hard it is when you retire, I think that needs to be spoken about more in swimming," Jones told Fairfax Media.

"They tell you it's hard but don't do that much about it. That should be highlighted to kids, and what goes up must come down.

"There is life after sport. You're at the peak at the Olympics, the best in the world, and nothing can match that. They should use Hacky for his insight and opinions on just how hard it is and the reality of it all."

Hackett retired after taking silver in the 1,500m freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games and struggled with the breakdown of his marriage and an addiction to a sleep medication.

He spent time in a U.S. rehab facility in 2014 after being found topless and disoriented in the lobby of a Melbourne casino.

Jones, who battled depression during and after her hugely successful career in the pool, said Hackett was still respected by the swimming community.

"Nobody is perfect. So many athletes have issues ... But because he's not perfect he might be a perfect mentor," said Jones, who won seven world titles from 2001-07.

"It's hard to see him struggle. But I get it. When you retire you lose a big part of yourself, it's a hole you can't fill. It's very tough."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)