Canterbury track and field star Rebecca Wardell has retired after being forced to abandon her London Olympics quest.
The 34-year-old Beijing Olympian heptathlete revealed "in one email I hoped I'd never have to write" that her campaign and career were over after a hamstring injury failed to heal in time for a last-ditch qualifying event in France.
Wardell suffered a grade two tear at a qualifying event in Ratingen, Germany, last month. She had to pull out after the first day when she was on track for a personal-best points tally and Olympic qualification.
A Swiss specialist said it would take six weeks to heal but she "tried everything I could to beat the odds and prove him wrong".
"I had a self-imposed fitness test on Wednesday in Valencia, and whilst I could run comfortably at about 85 per cent in spikes, I couldn't make the next step up to 100 per cent without pain and the serious risk of tearing the hammy again and, unfortunately, an Olympic-level heptathlon requires more than 85 per cent speed in the hurdles, 200m and long jump. I knew that I would not be able to find more in two days."
Wardell – who prior to Ratingen had not competed in an international heptathlon since surgery to a stress fracture to her left leg suffered at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games – said she "only needed probably another week to be at full fitness" but "unfortunately, I have just run out of time".
"What makes it particularly hard for me this time is the fact that I was in the best shape of my career, and that I won't have another chance to physically express in a heptathlon what we worked so hard to build in training."
Wardell will work for the New Zealand Olympic Committee as an ambassador at New Zealand House, the NZOC London base.
"It will be incredibly hard to be in London in the thick of things and not be competing.
"[It's] salt in the wounds, especially when now even looking at a can of Coke in the supermarket with the Olympic rings on it makes a knot in my stomach."
She said she would be trackside to cheer on her friend and training partner, Sarah Cowley, who would be "smashing it up in the heptathlon and flying the New Zealand flag" as the sole Kiwi.
The perennially positive Wardell "would love to say I don't want to finish my career on a low like this", but realised "that at 34 years old, my body is trying to tell me something".
Wardell preferred to focus on the "highlights rather than the injuries".
She was proud to represent New Zealand at the 2008 Olympics, the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2003 world championships and the 2001 and 2005 world university games. She was a national champion in both the heptathlon and 400m hurdles and made the top-10 all-time charts for the 400m hurdles, 400m, 200m, heptathlon, shot put and javelin.Wardell paid tribute to Andrew McClennan, her coach since 1997, strength and conditioning trainer Angus Ross, her former 400m hurdles coach Phil King, and her family and friends for their "unconditional encouragement and support".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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