In the history of Australian sport, perhaps only Herb Elliott, Shane Gould and Mark Ella can truly relate.
Gould quit swimming, aged 16; Elliott stopped running, aged 22; Ella walked away from rugby union, aged 25.
All were feted as world’s best; all at the peak of their powers.
All sent shockwaves by retiring early – but arguably not of the same magnitude as Ash Barty’s startling retirement from tennis.
To a sports-besotted country, Barty’s decision feels akin to Bradman calling stumps on reaching a half-century, Greg Norman pulling the pin after nine holes; Winx giving up the gallop at the turn.
But Elliott, Gould and Ella would know why Barty, ranked No.1, her sporting world at her feet, has quit.
Elliott: “To put family and academic life ahead of sports.”
Ella: “I had better things to do.”
Gould: “If you make it all of your life, well, you become quite a narrow and ultimately dissatisfied person.”
Track legend Elliott was never beaten in 36 races over a mile. He retired after winning 1500m gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Wallabies legend Ella was the same age as Barty when he retired.
Ella had just helped Australia complete rugby’s grand slam on the 1984 European tour.
He’d scored a try in all four of those 1984 Test wins against England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
He was acclaimed as the best rugby player in the world.
Then, he quit.
“When I retired, I was able to dictate what I wanted to do rather than the sport dictate it to me,” Ella has said.
“I wanted to be able to spend weekends the way I wanted to.
“I never wanted to play rugby forever.
“It was purely amateur in those days and I had other things I wanted to do.”
The next year, ’85, Ella almost went to play league with St George. Almost.
“I knew how to play league,” he said.
“The money was pretty good but I just didn’t want to play.
“I had retired and I didn’t feel the need to come back and play league, even for money.”
Money wasn’t a factor in Gould’s decision to retire in 1973 – in swimming, there wasn’t any cash to splash.
Like Barty, Gould was spent – exhausted from the pressures and demands.
In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, a 15-year-old Gould became a superstar of Australian sport, winning three gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
Gould was – and still is – the only swimmer, male or female, to hold every world freestyle record from 100m to 1500m simultaneously.
Gould also was the 200m individual medley world record holder.
Seemingly everyone wanted a piece of the schoolgirl. Yet despite the adulation, Gould said: “I felt alone.”
“I was successful and had so much attention but the public didn’t understand, the media didn’t understand, and the sports administrators didn’t understand, the demands being put on me,” she has said.
“It was a very lonely time.
“Really, it was a very practical thing for me to just leave the sport.”
(Australian Associated Press)