WA swim great rises from gloom

Former WA swimming king Neil Brooks is emerging from the post-career shadow of gloom that has engulfed some of Australia's greatest pool champions.

After a three-year exile in London, Brooks is back living in Perth, where he has had an emotional reunion with 84-year-old father Mick and is bullishly rebuilding his life and reputation through what he claims has been a spiritual rebirth.

On Thursday, the 51-year-old and his wife Elle settled their defamation case with Optus Mobile, publisher of the OptusZoo online magazine.

Brooks said the result was a vital stepping stone for his future.

He awaits a July court date to further his action to sue Channel 9's A Current Affair for what he says were defamatory stories on the collapse of his business deals.

Walking this week along the familiar Scarborough beach sand where he won his first Australian title as a surf club nipper - his only major win his mother saw before she died in 1979 - a 98kg Brooks looks nothing like the 152kg mass he ballooned out to as he fell to the brink of depression, poverty and alcoholism.

Now coaching promising British triathlete Lucy Biddlestone, who will compete in a half- ironman event in Busselton today, Brooks is again tackling life with the zest that helped him win a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

"We feel we have been on emotional death row for a long time," Brooks, once one of Australia's most recognisable athletes, said.

"I wouldn't ever want to go through it again because it's a horrible thing we have been through, but it's taught me so many valuable lessons. Everyone knows I'm no travelling Christian. I haven't been in the past and I'm no choirboy, but it's been so hard to genuinely see people look at me (with scorn).

"Now, I'm healthy. I've got a family who loves me, I'm as fit as all buggery and I generally go to bed with a smile on my face. People would think my world had fallen apart, it couldn't be further from the truth. I'm off my head most days on just the joy of life."

Brooks said he had come to hate the word revenge as chasing it had led him into his darkest times. But vindication is something he has craved and now feels.

His thoughts have also recently turned to the troubles of elite swimmers such as Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe, Scott Miller, Geoff Huegill, himself and even as far back as child prodigy Shane Gould.

He believed part of it was the four years between the Olympics, a period where swimmers could not re-create their sport's ultimate highs.

"Isn't it incredible," Brooks mused. "All we can bring it back to is that it's such a lonely sport.

"Back in the day when you are sometimes doing upward of 100km a week, every time you push off the wall, you're on your own and you've got your face in a bucket of water.

"That's got to have some kind of effect on you, going year after year and under the stress of it - you're not going for a leisurely swim. You're sore, you get claustrophobic, you're cold. It's not an excuse, it's more of an observation and a lot of us are saying is it any wonder we're all a bit cuckoo.

"I was 17 and an Olympic champion. Who handles that at 17?"

The West Australian

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