Australian track sprinter Stephanie Morton has announced her immediate retirement from the sport. The four-time world champion admitted that she would have liked to have been able to represent her nation "one more time" but that the global situation regarding COVID-19 has prevented that.
"It was not a decision I have taken lightly, and thankfully I had the support of the Australian Cycling Team throughout the whole process, along with my family and close friends," said Morton in a press release from AusCycling on Wednesday.
Morton referenced the difficulties of the coronavirus pandemic this year, which included the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to next summer, which she would have taken part in.
"No one could have prepared for what 2020 delivered, hence why this decision has been eight months in the making, as I needed to really consider what was best for me moving forward, and it has probably been the toughest thing I've ever had to do," she said.
"But even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it moved the Games' date, I had always said that the Tokyo Games wasn't going to define me, win or lose.
"In an ideal world, it would have been nice to go out one more time wearing green and gold, but we aren't in an ideal world anymore," Morton said. "I feel like if we have gone through a global pandemic and the worst that happens to me is I miss a bike race, then I'm doing OK."
Morton started her international track career as the pilot of a tandem with visually impaired cyclist Felicity Johnson, with the pair winning gold in the 1km time trial at the 2011 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Montichiari, Italy.
Morton and Johnson then defended their time-trial title and won the tandem sprint at the 2012 Worlds in Carson, Los Angeles, and went on to take the gold medal in the time trial at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. They were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) as a result.
Morton then switched her focus to the individual and team sprint events, taking a host of national and Oceania championship titles over the subsequent years, and winning gold in the sprint at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games on home turf on the Gold Coast, Australia, Morton came away with three gold medals, won in the sprint, the Keirin and the team sprint – the latter in partnership with Kaarle McCulloch. Morton and McCulloch then became world champions in the team sprint at the 2019 Track Worlds in Pruszkow, Poland.
"I have had such an amazing career," said Morton. "The past 15 years have left me with a lot of favourite moments. I think winning three gold medals in front of a home crowd at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games would have to be up there, along with becoming world champion with 'Karlz' in 2019."
Morton thanked the Australian Cycling Team – performance director Simon Jones, her sprint coach Nick Flyger, and the staff and her teammates past and present – as well as her family, friends and supporters.
"I've made some friendships that will last a lifetime, and we have shared some amazing experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today," she said.
Morton now begins her career outside of cycling using her university degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, which she studied for while competing in track cycling at the highest level.
"I have always had a plan for after cycling," she said. "You have to. I made sure I was studying so that when the time came to enter the 'real world', I would hit the ground running.
"The bike has given me a lot of achievements, but cycling, and being an elite athlete, has given me the ability push myself and always strive to be the best version of me, and, to me, that's a huge achievement I can take with me into my new life," said Morton.
"I start my new career next month, and I'm really looking forward to taking the skills I've obtained as an athlete with me into the workforce."
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