Announcing her retirement, Australia’s greatest track cyclist Anna Meares has revealed she needed six cortisone injections to her spine to compete at the Rio Olympics.
The 33-year-old Meares on Sunday officially ended a stellar career highlighted by six medals, including two gold, from four Olympic campaigns, 11 world championship titles and some inspirational feats of courage.
“Obviously a lot of people will be wondering where I am going to post-Rio. With some time in reflection I have decided that I am actually going to retire,” Meares told the Nine Network.
She admitted there had been a temptation to go on and finish her career on home soil at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – where the velodrome is to be named after her – but the wear and tear of a punishing sport had taken its toll.
Meares’ decision comes two months after the Rio Olympics, where she was Australia’s flagbearer at the opening ceremony and won bronze in the keirin to become the most decorated Australian cyclist in Games history.
Back problems meant Meares was handicapped in the lead up to Rio by being unable to do heavy weight training – a big factor for a sprint cyclist and she struggled in her Olympic sprint title defence – but she kept quiet about the extent of her treatment.
“Having looked back and seen all the things that I have achieved and assessed some of the injuries that I have had to manage going into Rio,” Meares said.
“Most people were unaware just to get to Rio I had six cortisone injections through my spine.
“Having had to change tack for six months leading into it 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 won the 500m time trial gold at her first Olympics in Athens in 2004 but it was her performance to win the sprint silver medal at Beijing 2008 after suffering a broken neck in a horror race crash in Los Angeles early in the year that made her name a byword for courage.
She singled out that performance and her sprint gold medal triumph over her great career rival Victoria Pendleton before the Englishwoman’s home fans at the London 2012 Olympics as her career highlights.
She had previously contemplated retirement last year following the breakdown of her marriage but decided to fight on to Rio.
For so long a foe, the retired Pendleton was in Rio to give Meares a consoling hug after her disappointment in the sprint title defence when she placed 10th.
“We had the same career, the same experiences … we really moved the sport on as a pairing and as a rivalry that really captured a lot of people’s imagination,” Pendleton told AAP.
Pendleton hoped Meares could at least continue competing until the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“Her home crowd would be a much more fitting send-off for such a huge champion,” she said.
But it was not to be.
Meares said she will stay involved with the sport as a mentor to youngsters.
ANNA MEARES CAREER IN MEDALS
2 gold (500m time trial, 2004; sprint, 2012)
1 silver (sprint, 2008)
3 bronze (sprint, 2004; team sprint, 2012; keirin, 2016
11 gold (500m time trial, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012; sprint 2011; team sprint 2009, 2010, 2011, keirin 2011, 2012, 2015)
9 silver (500m time trial, 2005, 2009, 2014, 2015; sprint 2004; team sprint 2012; keirin 2003, 2014, 2016)
6 bronze (sprint, 2005, 2007, 2012; team sprint 2007, 2015; keirin 2007)
5 gold (500m time trial, 2006, 2010, 2014; sprint, 2010; team sprint 2010)
2 silver (sprint 2006; 2014).