It has been a tough couple of years for one of Australia’s best-loved and most successful swimmers, but in New York last night, the whole room rose as one for Ian James Thorpe.
Thorpe, Thorpie, the Thorpedo, call him what you will, was guest of honour at the Australia Day ball hosted by one of the largest, oldest and most respected soft diplomacy outfits in the world, the American Australian Association.
It was quite a night: Cipriani, the ballroom on Wall Street, was bursting with successful Australian businessmen, artists, designers, authors, wine importers and entrepreneurs, all making their way in the Big Apple.
The other special guest was the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who is currently on a tour of the US.
Both the US and the Australian anthems were sung – and, when Thorpe rose to speak, he noted that normally when he heard the US anthem 'it meant that I had done something wrong!'
How rarely that happened: Thorpe won five Olympic gold medals in his career - the most by any Australian - three of them at the Sydney Olympics, where we arguably needed them most.
He talked about the men’s relay at the Sydney games, revealing that he was actually running late for the race because he had split his swimsuit.
'If you’re not aware of swimming, you have to wear them, otherwise, you’re naked,' he laughed.
There was a confidence in that line that has lately been missing from Thorpe, but then he was always the shy king of the pool.
'Sport, we recognize is a healthy thing to do,' he said.
'But it’s not about results. It’s about the way we, as Australians, participate. I’m pleased that my competitors are my friends, not my foes.'
He appeared overwhelmed by the love in the room - so many people wanting to say hello, and congratulate him - but told the Weekly that life was going, well, swimmingly.
For her part, Julie Bishop spoke about the genuine friendship between Oz and the US, and she did her part for an emerging Australian business, by wearing a spectacular Johanna Johnsongown.
In 2011, Johanna created a gown and sent it, on spec, to Christina Hendricks (the curvy redhead from Mad Men) saying: 'Here’s your dress!'
Christina wore it on the red carpet, and Johanna’s clients now include Pink, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez.
Johanna works from Sydney, but has a strong and growing presence in the US. All her dresses are, Ms Bishop said, 'lovingly designed, created, stitched and proudly made in Australia.'
It was the knockout gown of the night.
The American Australian Association was founded in 1948 by Sir Keith Murdoch, with the aim of strengthening ties between the US and Australia. It has succeeded on every level, with cultural programs, educational scholarships, business networks, gala fundraisers, and even Mum’s groups now operating under its umbrella.