One of the USA's most decorated cyclists, four-time Olympic silver medalist Sarah Hammer, announced her retirement this week. The 34-year-old eight-time world champion has been the backbone of the US women's endurance programme for more than a decade, but has chosen to hang up the bike and put her energies into her coaching business with husband Andy Sparks.
"I'm really excited to continue my journey of promoting track cycling and women's cycling in my new role," Hammer said in a press release. "My primary focus will be to share and implement my knowledge with incoming athletes and coaches so they don't have to learn it all on their own."
Hammer was a multi-time junior national champion and promising international rider when she nearly gave up the sport for good in 2003. Burned out, she sold her equipment and went back to school, but didn't stay off the bike for long. She was back after being inspired by the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens she returned to the sport first focusing on the individual pursuit (in which she won five world titles) and coming fifth in the Beijing Olympic Games in the discipline despite being hampered by a persistent back injury.
When the pursuit was scrapped in favour of the Omnium, Hammer rose to the challenge. She finished second to Briton Laura Trott in the Omnium at the Olympic Games in London and Rio, and won the world title in 2013 and 2014.
Hammer had recently switched her focus to the mass start events, leaving the team pursuit in the capable hands of her protégée Chloe Dygert, with fellow Olympians Jen Valente, and Kelly Catlin being joined by veteran Kim Geist in taking the world title this year. Hammer had hinted she was ready to pass the torch on to Dygert in the pursuit and was mulling over retirement, but in April appeared to be set to continue racing.
Looking back, Hammer said the team pursuit holds the most cherished memories of her career, in particular her first Olympic medal in 2012.
"In terms of results, I am probably most proud of the 2012 Olympic team pursuit medal I won with Jennie Reed, Dotsie Bausch and Lauren Tamayo. That journey was a special one and is one I will remember for the rest of my life."
USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall thanked Hammer for her contribution to the country's track programme.
"Sarah has had one of the most remarkable careers in Olympic sport. Her achievements are astounding and without a doubt place her among the greatest American cyclists of all time," Bouchard-Hall said. "For those of us who had the opportunity to witness her train and compete first hand, however, her dedication, focus, and leadership may be for what we will remember most. She always got the best out of herself and those around her – and that is a legacy which will remain with the next generation of cyclists who had the opportunity to learn from her and with USA Cycling more broadly."
Sparks ran the women's endurance programme until early this year, when he was dismissed for violating USA Cycling's employment policies. Several members of the programme complained that Sparks had bullied and emotionally abused them.
Hammer and Sparks run training centers in Mallorca, Spain and Colorado Springs, and have coached athletes from several different countries including Ireland, Spain, Turkey, Mexico, Korea and South Africa.
"We're proud to still represent a few of those countries and now we're taking on new partners as countries begin their Olympic cycles for Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024. We actually just wrapped up our first camp for the Singapore national team, which went incredibly well," Hammer said.
"Knowing that I've made a difference bringing high-performance sport programs to these small countries makes me feel really good. Our goal has always been to empower the underdog and with the UCI making many policy changes in the last four years, there has never been a better time to promote track cycling and women's cycling around the world."