Melissa Breen, Australia's fastest woman, retires from athletics

Melissa Breen has retired as a two-time Olympian and Australia's fastest woman. Main picture: Rohan Thomson
Melissa Breen has retired as a two-time Olympian and Australia's fastest woman. Main picture: Rohan Thomson

Melissa Breen pauses for just a moment when asked about her favourite sprint memory after more than a decade travelling the world.

Two Olympic Games? Top five, but not the top. Three Commonwealth Games? They were good, but still not the best. Becoming the fastest women in Australian athletics history is it, surely? Not even close.

"My No. 1 moment of all time that I'm proud of is winning a gift at Albury in 2014 in front of my grandfather," Breen says after announcing her surprise retirement. That's my proudest moment. I was behind the start line, I was off minus half a metre and I was so determined to win that race for him. I did it. He passed away a few years ago, and it meant the world to me that he was here. That my family was there ... because it was always about more than medals."

The Canberra sprint queen officially ended her racing career on Friday, telling the world the time was right for her to finish now instead of chasing a third Olympic berth in 2021.

It ends a rollercoaster journey from an unknown teenage prodigy at the Australian Pacific School Games in 2008 to smashing Melinda Gainsford-Taylor's 20-year-old record in 2014 and then beating injuries to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

She said she was "filled with gratitude" after overcoming so many challenges on and off the track. There was the constant race against the clock on it to secure her place at major championships. Then there were the injuries and battles for funding off it to ensure she could chase her dream.

Breen says she regrets nothing, content with her decision to retire just weeks before what should have been the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

"Maybe it will be hard for people to understand because the [postponed] Olympics are only a year away, but another year of that level of training ... it gets harder every year," Breen said.

"I feel reborn. I'm not anxious, I'm not upset. I'm just really ready to jump into the next chapter. Finishing my career might have scared me in the past. But I know being a track athlete is not who I am, it's just what I have done for half of my life. And it's led me to some great things in [coach and partner Matt Beckenham] and the things I dreamed of."

The trigger for Breen to make the call was when the 29-year-old's mindset changed from "I get to go to training" to "I have to go to training".

She has been plagued by injuries over the past three years and almost didn't make it to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. The coronavirus-forced delay forced her down a different path and she will walk away from being "track Mel". Breen was inundated with messages of congratulations and support after making her decision official.

She finishes her career as a two-time Olympian and competed at three Commonwealth Games (Dehli, Glasgow and the Gold Coast) and at four world championships.

But the day she broke Gainsford-Taylor's record, stopping the clock at 11.11 seconds, was perhaps the biggest moment. She is still the fastest Australian female sprinter in history.

She etched her name in Australian athletics record books on a scintillating afternoon at the AIS Track six years ago, shocking everyone when she stopped the clock at 11.11 seconds.

"[Athletics] was everything to me for a long time. But it's not anymore," Breen said. "I know how important it is to have other things in your life.

"I was always told when you know, you'll know it's time. And that's now for me, it's time and I'm grateful."

This story Breen finishes life in the fast lane first appeared on The Canberra Times.