The final chapter of one of the world’s most extraordinary and unrivalled sporting careers has come to a close, with Anna Meares, 33, officially announcing her retirement from cycling today.
Widely regarded as the greatest female track cyclist in history, the Queensland-native has left an astonishing legacy in the sport, seemingly setting new benchmarks and breaking down barriers every time she took to the velodrome.
“Cycling Australia and the sport of cycling in Australia have given me so much and I am so profoundly proud of being a cyclist and a member of the Cycling Australia team,” an emotional Meares told Cycling Australia.
“I am really proud of my longevity, also proud of the level of high consistency in my performances and results during my career.
“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.”
During a stellar 15-year international career, Meares amassed six Olympic medals from four Games including two gold, to become the most decorated Australian Olympic cyclist. This also elevated her as the only Australian athlete to medal at four consecutive Games (individual events).
The adopted South Australian also grabbed 11 world titles for most all-time by a female cyclist, plus bagged five Commonwealth Games gold and 35 national crowns.
This was made all the more remarkable given Meares suffered life threatening injuries after a horrific race crash just seven months from the 2008 Olympic Games.
“Resilience, and strength,” remarked Meares when asked what she would most like to be remembered for outside of her extensive medal tally and records list.
“I am really proud I have stuck around for as long as I have and while some people think I have made it look easy, I had to work so hard to stay on top.
“And 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.”
The first chapter in Meares’ cycling story was opened when she was inspired to take up the sport as an eleven-year-old in Rockhampton Queensland after watching Kathy Watt at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
Following success at the national and international level as a junior, Meares moved to Adelaide as a teenager in 2001 to join the Cycling Australia High Performance Unit.
Without delay, Meares’ then announced herself to the world as eighteen-year-old with bronze at the 2002 Commonwealth Games – the first of four Games for Meares, which netted a tally of five gold, two silver and a bronze.
Meares’ stunning Olympic career spanned four games and began in triumphant style in 2004 in Athens where she became the first woman to win gold for Australia on the track. Meares won the 500m time trial – in world record time – in addition to sprint bronze.
Four years later, Meares made one of world sport’s most astonishing comebacks when just seven months after breaking her neck during a race, she went on to win an emotional sprint silver at the Beijing 2008 Games.
The 2012 London Games would be the crowning moment of Meares’ career when she defeated home town hero Victoria Pendleton to claim sprint gold.
And in what would be her final Olympic Games performance, Meares grabbed bronze in the keirin in Rio to become the first rider to win Olympic medals in all four sprint events, plus elevate herself to be Australia’s most decorated cyclist in Olympic Games history with six medals.
“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.
“I always had a standard that I adhered to and I am really proud that I have kept myself grounded by those values.”
Meares’ extraordinary longevity at the top featured a record eleven world championship titles – the most all-time by a female track cyclist – and a career total of 27 medals. Meares also stands tall as the only rider to boast rainbow jerseys in all four sprint disciplines.
A check of the time clock also has Australia’s Queen of the Track as the only female cyclist to have ridden world record times in all three timed women’s sprint events for a career tally of eight records. Meares was also the first to break the 34 and 33-second barriers in the 500m time trial.
A two-time winner of the ‘Oppy Medal’ for Australian Cyclist of the Year, Meares is one of only three Australians bestowed with the honour of carrying the flag at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
“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 the those riders, but that sport as a whole,” said Meares, who has played an integral part in elevating the sport at all levels through her commitment to the sport on and off the bike.
“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.
“I am also proud that I have participated in the sport when it has gone from unequal to equal, men to women.
“We are talking about Olympic and Commonwealth Games competitions that did not offer the same event opportunities, or prize money at world championships.
“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.”
And while Meares most often celebrated on the podium on her own, she was quick to pay tribute to the team behind the champion.
“I know I am an individual athlete most of the time, but I am part of a very big team,” she said. “I have had some truly remarkable teammates, one being my sister Kerrie.
“I have had some truly remarkable coaches, Ken Tucker, Martin Barras and Gary West.
“Particularly spending eight years working with Gary, that whole strategy and plan that went in to winning the gold medal in 2012 against Pendleton, obviously was one of our highlights.
“Short of naming everyone in the CA support staff, I would like to thank in particular Nick Flyger, Alex Bird, Scott Baker, David Short and of course Berthy May, well what can you say about Berthy.
“Of course to my family and my closet friends and to my manager Francine who has been a hero to me behind the scenes.
“And finally to corporate Australia. I am very lucky to have a great group of sponsors who have been in my corner. I certainly would not have stayed in the sport as long as I did if it was not for them.”
While still enjoying some time away from the bike, Meares will certainly not be lost to the sport.
“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.”
Cycling Australia CEO Nicholas Green OAM paid tribute to Meares upon her announcement.
“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,” said Green.
“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.
“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.
“Quite simply, the world of cycling is stronger because of Anna Meares, not poorer because of her retirement.
“We wish Anna all the best and look forward to her remaining with the sport in Australia to nurture and mentor our next generation of cyclists.”
Celebrate Anna Meares’ career with us at the Jayco Australian Cyclist of the Year Awards on November 18 in Melbourne. A two-time winner of the ‘Oppy’, a special tribute honouring the champion will feature during Australian cycling’s night of nights at the Sofitel Hotel.
· 6 Olympic medals (incl 2 Gold)
· 27 World Championship medals (incl 11 gold. Most by any woman in the world)
· 8 Commonwealth medals (incl 5 gold)
· 35 National titles
· 8 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 4 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
· Order of Australia Medallist
· Centenary Medallist
· Two-time Oppy Medallist – Australian Cyclist of the Year