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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 04:06 GMT
Swimming star O'Neill retires
Susie O'Neill
O'Neill dominated the 200m butterfly for four years
Susie O'Neill, the 200 metres butterfly world record holder and a dual Olympic gold medalist, has announced that she is to quit competitive swimming.

The 27-year-old Australian won the 200 butterfly at the 1996 Atlanta Games and was unbeaten in that event until Sydney in September, where she took silver.

She did, however, avenge her defeat in the 200m freestyle, where she won gold.

She said that she knew at the Games that it would be her last competitive outing. She felt that there was nothing left for her to achieve.

I'm looking forward to putting something back into the community that has supported me for so many years. I will be working with some key community service programs
  Susie O'Neill

"In the back of my mind I knew Sydney was my last competition but to say it out loud was very difficult," O'Neill said.

"Mainly because it was such a big part of my life for the last 18 years.

"There is nothing else I would like to achieve. I knew it was time to go.

"I've enjoyed every minute of it and couldn't have dreamed of a better place to have swum my last international race than at the Olympic Games in front of a packed home crowd. It was like a fairy tale.

"While I have enjoyed a wonderful career, it is now time to move on to other things in my life.

"It appears that my life will be just as busy away from the pool as it was when I was in it. I have many things to look forward to in the immediate future."

Husband put first

O'Neill said she would concentrate on working for the International Olympic Commission, on to which she was voted in September, an indication of her standing within her sport.

"I plan to invest my energies into my appointment as an athlete delegate to the IOC. I am passionate about the Olympic movement and its future.

"I'm looking forward to putting something back into the community that has supported me for so many years. I will be working with some key community service programs."

O'Neill's move comes as no surprise - the Australian had said that she was considering quitting competition to concentrate on her marriage after the disappointment of losing the gold at the Sydney Games to America's Misty Hyman.

Susie O'Neill
O'Neill celebrates with her team-mates at the end of the 2000 Olympics

She said at the time that the need for her to train constantly and spend time away from home in order to remain at the top of her game may force the issue.

O'Neill went on a surf safari after the Olympics with husband Cliff Fairley to consider her sporting future.

"I did a couple of laps in the hotel pool and decided that was it," she said.

"When I was surfing and all that in Bali I tried to picture myself in the pool training and I couldn't."

Immediately after the Olympics, O'Neill had said: "Swimming always came first - even before Cliff - over the last couple of years so it would be nice to reverse that a bit."

"It's hard on the relationship when you're an elite athlete, especially when you're living in different cities," she said.

Special highlight

O'Neill said she felt she had nothing else to prove in the pool after breaking American Mary T Meagher's 19-year-old 200m butterfly world record at this year's national selection trials.

"Definitely breaking the world record at the trials would be the highlight of my career," she said.

"It was in front of a home crowd, it was sort of expected of me but I still had to go out there and do it.

"I got to speak to Mary T Meagher a half an hour after the record, it was very special."

O'Neill's decision to retire will come as a blow to Australia's head swimming coach, Don Talbot. He had said after the Games: "She's got a lot more left in her."

Olympic controversy

He hinted at the time that he believed her thinking was being clouded by her defeat.

"Finishing being beaten in her favourite event - you can't feel good about that even though she got silver and it was a great swim and she holds the world record," he said.

At the Olympics, she was also involved in a controversy with Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn, hinting that she thought de Bruijn's swims were "pretty suss", a remark that was interpreted as a drug slur.

O'Neill later sent her rival an e-mail apologising for the remarks.

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See also:

12 Oct 00 |  Swimming
O'Neill contemplates retirement
20 Sep 00 |  Swimming
Hyman breaks O'Neill's hold
19 Sep 00 |  Swimming
O'Neill strikes gold for Australia
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