Australian track cyclist Anna Meares has announced that she is retiring from track racing, calling time on a 15 year history-making career where she has continuously set new benchmarks.
The 33 year-old Meares achievements include 27 world championship medals with an unmatched 11 gold. She also has six Olympic medals – making her the most decorated Australian cyclist ever – 35 national titles and eight world records.
“I am really proud of my longevity, also proud of the level of high consistency in my performances and results during my career,” said Meares in a statement. “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.”
The South Australian based rider never rested on her laurels, but kept her eyes firmly fixed on the next goal while racing. Though, now she is hoping to contribute to the sport by helping mentor and guide a new generation of cyclists in the hope that they will better those achievements.
“I hope that records that I have ridden, and bench marks that I have set, get surpassed by the next generation to follow, because I think that is all about improving not just those riders, but the sport as a whole,” said Meares.
“I know that I have left the sport better than when I came into it, which I am really proud of,” she added.
Meares won over a huge following and became a well-known sporting name in a nation where the attention is focussed on Aussie Rules football, cricket and tennis, not just because of her results but also her incredible tenacity.
The most memorable moments of Meares career go beyond her record breaking victories. The sprint silver she won at the Beijing 2008 Olympics after she fought back from life threatening injuries when she broke her neck in a race just seven months before, is firmly implanted in the memory of many Australian cycling fans.
“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,” Cycling Australia chief executive Nick Green said in a statement.”Also, the resilience shown by Anna as she faced repeated challenges throughout her career epitomised her strength of character and truly inspired the nation.”
“While the trademark Meares stare, speed, power and victories will be sorely missed in velodromes across Australia and throughout the world, Anna has left a legacy on the sport that will be felt for years to come,” he added. “Quite simply, the world of cycling is stronger because of Anna Meares, not poorer because of her retirement.
More involvement and opportunity for women
“I know that I have left the sport better than when I came into it, which I am really proud, of,” said Meares, who spent time on the UCI Athletes Commission.
“I have certainly seen positive changes at the Cycling Australia High Performance Unit from when I came in part time in 2002. It is wonderful to see more involvement and opportunity for women in the time I have gone through.”
Track cycling was one of the sports that for many years stood out for its gender disparity at the Olympics. In 2008 at Beijing there were seven track events for men and just three for women, but this changed in 2012 to five each. Those changes have also flowed through to the investment by cycling bodies in the women’s side of the sport, as much of the funding for athlete development is tied to Olympic medal prospects.
The change has taken longer at Commonwealth Games level, but it was announced earlier this month that the event numbers would finally be equal for men and women in 2018.
“We are talking about Olympic and Commonwealth Games competitions that did not offer the same event opportunities, or prize money at world championships,” said Meares. “So to be a part of the sport as it has grown, and I think championing that change to an extent as well, I am really proud of that.”
From the beginning
Meares love of cycling started, when as an eleven year old in Rockhampton, Queensland she watched Kathy Watts at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and then decided to give track a go.
It is hard to imagine the eleven-time world track champion as anything but the strong, cunning and skilful athlete she is now. But everyone has to start somewhere, and while her determination to go fast was a characteristic she had right from her beginning, the skills to do it had to be worked at.
“I have always had drive, competition, tenacity, I have always had a desire in me to be the best,” said Meares. “It didn’t matter what it was – school, art, sport, work.
When we spoke to Meares last year she recalled how, in her desire for speed, how as an eager to learn girl she adopted a zig-zag strategy up and down the banks of a track in central Queensland.
“I remember my first 500 that I did in training,” Meares told Ella CyclingTips. “I went to the Rocky (Rockhampton) track and it was a banked track and it was the first time I’d seen a banked track. Someone said to me that when you are at the top of the bank and gather speed down you go really, really fast.”
Clearly keen for a quick pace, even at 11, this left Meares hatching a strategy. “I thought okay I am going to ride up the bank and then I am going to ride down the bank and then I’ll go up the bank and I’ll go down the next bank.”
“I came in and the coach is going ‘what are you doing? You are supposed to ride round the bottom as fast as you can.’ I said ‘but you said I’d get more speed from the top.’ I was so confused!”
But confused she did not stay. Success as a junior led her to move to Adelaide as a teenager in 2001 to join the Cycling Australia High Performance Unit. Results quickly followed with a bronze at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and that was just the beginning for the women who would become one of the best, if not the best, women’s track cyclists ever.
- Six Olympic medals, including two gold
- 27 World Championship medals including 11 gold (Most by any woman in the world)
- Eight Commonwealth medals, including five gold
- 35 National titles
- Eight world records and four Commonwealth records
- Only woman to have ridden world records in all three timed events (500m, 200m & Team Sprint)
- Only woman in the world to have won World Titles in every sprint discipline
- Only woman in the world to medal at the Olympics in all four sprint disciplines
- Most Olympic medals won by an Australian cyclist
- Only Australian to medal in four consecutive Olympics in individual events
- First woman to win Olympic gold for Australia on the velodrome (at the age of 20)
- First women to ride sub 34 and sub 33 seconds for the 500m Time Trial