Australia's Anna Meares holds her gold medal after defeating great rival Victoria Pendleton in the women's sprint at the 2012 London Games.
Australia's Anna Meares holds her gold medal after defeating great rival Victoria Pendleton in the women's sprint at the 2012 London Games. DEAN LEWINS

Meares leaves cycling with great pride in achievements

CYCLING: It was the greatest track cycling career by a female rider in history.

It came to an end yesterday when Anna Meares announced her retirement from the sport she dominated for more than a decade, but if ever one glittered it was the 33-year-old's.

Etched gold, it included two Olympic, 11 world championship, five Commonwealth and 35 national track crowns.

There were six Olympic medals in total, starting with gold in the 500m time trial in Athens 2004 when she was just 21, and still working her way out of her older sister Kerrie's shadow. In world-record time, she became the first woman to win gold for Australia on the track.

Right up until the end, Meares won her country's only individual cycling medal of the Rio Games with bronze in the women's keirin final.

It was a tearful yet successful exit to the Olympics by the athlete who was given the honour of carrying the flag at the opening ceremony.

And the girl who learnt to ride a bike in the central Queensland coal-mining town of Middlemount bid another emotional farewell to racing entirely yesterday.

"I am really proud of my longevity, also proud of the level of high consistency in my performances and results during my career,” she told Cycling Australia.

"It is hard to close this chapter, because it is a bloody big one, but I am really excited about the doors opening in to the next chapter of my life.”

In Rio, and despite a back injury, she became the most decorated Australian Olympic cyclist and also the only Australian athlete to collect an individual medal at four consecutive Games.

Outside of the many times she stood proudly atop the podium all around the world, Meares said she wanted to be remembered mostly for her "resilience and strength”.

Her sprint silver in Beijing 2008 will be considered as good as any gold. It came after a horrific race crash just seven months earlier left her with a broken neck, and seemingly no hope of competing, let alone challenging.

"While some people think I have made it look easy, I had to work so hard to stay on top,” she said.

"I have been challenged extensively throughout my career and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of those challenges.

"I feel that I have grown with each experience and they have left me a better athlete, a better person.”

After honing her racing talents on the bike alongside her sister in Rockhampton and Mackay, Meares first announced herself on the world stage at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games as an 18-year-old with a bronze in the sprint.

Fours years later in Melbourne, she netted five gold, two silver and a bronze.

She claimed her first world title, in the time trial, also in Melbourne, in 2004 - one of 27 world championship medals - before becoming the only woman to win world titles in every sprint discipline.

For good measure, there were also eight world records achieved, Meares having become the first woman to ride sub-34 seconds and then sub-33 seconds for the 500m time trial.

"I have always had drive, competition, tenacity, I have always had a desire in me to be the best,” Meares said. "It didn't matter what it was - school, art, sport, work.

"I always had a standard that I adhered to and I am really proud that I have kept myself grounded by those values.”

And it is those value she will look to pass on.

"I want to stay involved with Cycling Australia and cycling in Australia in some capacity, hopefully in a mentoring role with our next generation of cyclists coming through,” she said.

"But there are so many things I am excited for about the future. I would just like to give myself a good chunk of time to dip my toe in and work out what I am passionate about.”

MEARES' CAREER

6 Olympic medals (2 gold)

27 world championship medals (11 gold - most by any woman in the world)

8 Commonwealth medals (5 gold)

35 national titles

8 world records and 4 Commonwealth records



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