By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport in Athens
Steve Backley did not get the retirement present he had hoped for as he brought
down the curtain on a glittering career with fourth place in his Olympic swansong.
But the British javelin king walked out of the stadium with his head held high after a
typically defiant display almost saw him battle his way on to the podium.
Backley bows out with a trophy cabinet full of medals, including two silvers and one
bronze from the Olympics, two world silvers and a record four European golds.
"I feel it's a fitting way to finish my career. I've really seen it through to the end," the
35-year-old told BBC Sport.
"I don't feel as if I've left anything out there. I've given my best to the sport.
"I believed right to the end, up until the point I was beaten!"
Backley had always intended to make Athens his final competition after 15 years at the top.
STEVE BACKLEY FACTFILE
Born: 12 February 1969, Sidcup, Kent
1987: European junior gold
1990: First European title. Commonwealth gold
1991: World record in Sheffield
1992: Olympic bronze in Barcelona. Another world record
1993: Fourth at World Championships
1994: European champion. Commonwealth gold
1995: World silver. Awarded MBE
1996: Olympic silver in Atlanta
1997: World silver
1998: European champion. Commonwealth silver
1999: Eighth at worlds
2000: Olympic silver
2001: Sixth at worlds
2002: European champion. Commonwealth gold. Awarded OBE
2003: Ninth at worlds
2004: Fourth at Athens Games
He won his first major title in 1990, and went on to break the world record four times in the space of two years.
But despite dominating all his major rivals in European championships, he was unable to do the same against them at Olympic or world level.
Czech star Jan Zelezny was so often Backley's nemesis, beating him into second place at both the Atlanta and Sydney Games.
Four years ago, Backley led the competition with an Olympic record of 89.85m, only for Zelezny to retain his title with a throw of 90.17m.
Backley admitted he thought his luck might be changing when the Czech failed to
qualify for the final round in Athens.
And he told himself 'I fancy some of that' when he heard the national anthem playing
after Kelly Holmes and Britain's 4x100m relay team won gold medals.
But Backley finished the competition 71cm behind third-placed Russian Sergey Makarov, despite producing a season's best throw of 84.13m.
"It was slightly disappointing, but again I got the best out of myself," said Backley.
"That's something I think has been my forte over the years.
"The Olympics, four European titles, getting into the medals twice in the last round of
the World Championships, Olympic records, world records - it's been fantastic.
"Second, second, third and fourth at the Olympics is pretty good. You always want more.
"If it had been bronze, I'd have wanted silver, and if it had been silver I'd have wanted gold."
Backley's European triumph of 2002 turned out to be his last major success, as he failed to make the World Championships final in Paris last summer.
Backley's training partner took gold
And 2004 will go down as the end of an era for British javelin throwing, with Backley's
friend and training partner Mick Hill bowing out earlier this year.
"I'm never going to pick up a javelin again unless it's to coach," Backley added.
"I really want to spend a year opening up my eyes to what's around me and see what
else is out there other than athletics.
"It's a very insular world and you are very inwardly focused. I've got a young family and it's time for me to change that now and give them time and look for more stability in my life."
Backley, who has a golf handicap of seven, is planning to write a book about the
psychology of preparing for competition.
But judging by the golden success of his Norwegian training partner Andreas
Thorkildsen, his magic has already started to rub off on the stars of the future.