Sydney: Australia’s Anna Meares called time on her stellar cycling career on Sunday which at one stage threatened to leave her in a wheelchair after breaking her neck in a horrific track crash eight years ago.
Meares has lived and competed in pain since the tumble in Los Angeles in January 2008, only to fight back and win a medal at the Beijing Olympics just seven months later.
The six-time Olympic medallist and 11-time world champion announced her anticipated retirement from the track on Sunday at the age of 33 and just a couple of months since claiming a bronze medal in the keirin event at the Rio Games.
The inspirational Australian also revealed that she needed six cortisone injections in her spine just to compete in Rio.
“Having had to change tack for six months leading into it (Rio) and to achieve the things I have, I feel satisfied and happy to step aside from the sport and try something new and different,” Meares said on her decision to retire.
Meares’s indomitable courage has been a by-word in the sport after she fought back from serious injury when she fractured a neck vertebra in the track crash in Los Angeles.
Later it was discovered that if the crack in her vertebra had been two millimetres longer, she could have been killed or left a quadriplegic.
Yet she went from a wheelchair to winning an Olympic silver medal in the sprint in Beijing.
“I am really proud I have stuck around for as long as I have,” she said.
“I have been challenged extensively throughout my career ... and I feel that I have grown with each experience and they have left me a better athlete, a better person.”
Meares won six medals — two gold — at four Olympics and her record 11 world championship titles among a career total of 27 medals is the most all-time by a female track cyclist.
She is the only rider to wear rainbow jerseys in all four sprint disciplines.
Meares is also the only female cyclist to have posted world record times in all three timed sprint events for a career tally of eight records.
She was the first woman to break the 34 and 33-second barriers in the 500m time trial.
A two-time Australian Cyclist of the Year, Meares is one of only three Australians bestowed with the honour of carrying the national flag at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
Cycling Australia chief executive Nick Green paid tribute to the career achievements of Meares.
“Anna’s contribution to the sport of cycling is immeasurable, and whether on or off the bike, Anna exemplified the utmost professionalism and respect for the sport and her peers,” Green said.
“Her results at the Olympic, world championship and Commonwealth level are second to none and is a tribute to her hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence.
“Also the resilience shown by Anna as she faced repeated challenges throughout her career epitomised her strength of character and truly inspired the nation.”