Thorpe is denying financial problems are behind his return to competitive swimming [GALLO/GETTY]

Five-time Olympian and Australian hero Ian Thorpe has brought an end to more than four years of retirement by announcing his return to competitive swimming with the goal of competing at next year's London Games.

Ending months of speculation, 'Thorpedo', as he is affectionately known in Australia, has started training ahead of the Australian Olympic selection trials in February or March 2012.

After a glittering career in which he captured nine Olympic medals, Thorpe retired in November 2006 after setting 13 world records and winning 11 world championship golds. He won the 200 and 400 meters freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics in his last major international meet.

"I never thought I would be swimming in a competitive way again but I am glad that I am," said Thorpe on Wednesday.

"I have spent four years away from the pool and I needed those four years".

Training

"It hasn't been something that I have taken lightly in making a decision in returning to competitive swimming, but I actually made a decision in September,'' Thorpe said.

"When I made that decision (to return to swimming) I ... was not able to say anything because I was commentating for the BBC, so it was sitting in my gut for a while,'' he said.

"I was then taken to see the swimming venue for the London Games. It was an extraordinary venue, and I could actually taste it. I haven't felt like swimming like that for a very long time.''

At the height of his career, Thorpe was the greatest middle distance freestyler of all time, he was never beaten in the 400 metres and only once over 200, but he said he would now target the relays and the 100 and 200 freestyle.

"I'm in the process of turning myself into a sprinter who can also maybe do a good 200 as well," he said.

"I don't think in the short time that I have that I'll be able to go through enough training cycles to be able to prepare myself for the (400)."

Thorpe said he would, however, swim in an individual event in London if he qualified at the Olympic trials, but cautioned his compatriots to be realistic about what he could achieve.

"The level of expectation that's on me is enormous, it's probably only outweighed by my own expectations. I don't want to let people down and I don't want to let myself down."

Intrusions into his private life had robbed him of his enjoyment of the sport four years ago, he said, and he asked that the media respect his privacy even if he would be training mostly in Abu Dhabi and Europe.

Top secret

Thorpe sparked rumours of a comeback when he was spotted in recent months training in Sydney.

Swimming Australia head coach Leigh Nugent also recently confirmed he'd been in regular contact, offering advice on how to regain fitness in the pool.

Thorpe burst onto the international stage as a teenager in 1999 and won three gold medals - all in world record times - and two silver medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He was the world's highest-profile swimmer until Michael Phelps came onto the scene, and had a list of lucrative endorsement deals. But Thorpe admitted last year that he'd had financial problems after his personal savings were affected by the global economic crisis.

He said he was not motivated by money in his comeback, only performance.

"I didn't get back in the pool to get fit, I didn't get back in the pool for any other reason than to be back ... at being able to compete at an elite level,'' he said.

Source: Agencies