Announcing her retirement, Australian cycling great Anna Meares has revealed she needed six cortisone injections through her spine to compete at the Rio Olympics.
Meares, 33, said on Sunday she had decided to end her stellar career, highlighted by two gold medals from four Olympic campaigns and 11 world championship titles.
"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.
"The reason I took some time to myself after Rio ... I wanted to remove myself from that environment and get over some of the emotions attached with the Olympic Games."
Meares admitted there had been a temptation to go on and finish her career on home soil at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but the wear and tear of a punishing sport had taken its toll.
"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."
Her decision comes after she won bronze in the keirin at the Rio Games, her sixth Olympic medal making her the most decorated Australian cyclist in Games history.
“I feel satisfied and happy to step aside from the sport and try something new and different," she said.
Meares’s 11 world titles are the most by a female cyclist. She also won 35 national titles and five gold medals at Commonwealth Games.
"I am really proud of my longevity, also proud of the level of high consistency in my performances and results during my career," Meares said. "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."
Meares' achievements are even more incredible in light of the life-threatening injuries she suffered in a race crash, including a fractures in her neck, just months before Beijing 2008.
Meares said she would most like to be remembered for her "resilience and strength".
"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."
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," he said.
"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."