Harting bids farewell where it all began in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Robert Harting
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Germany's Robert Harting drew the curtain on his legendary career with a runner-up finish in the discus at the ISTAF in Berlin on Sunday

How fitting that Germany’s Robert Harting saved the best of his final day until last. When the discus left his right hand to signal the end of his extraordinary career, it carried across the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and landed at 64.95m.

He needed 73 centimetres more to overtake the leader - his younger brother Christoph - but Robert had nothing to prove on this emotional farewell to one of the greatest of all careers.

Second this time, but first on so many occasions for the 33-year-old from Cottbus whose success will take some beating.

The Olympic champion in London – when he celebrated his glory by hurdling over the 110m barriers – three times a world champion, the first of those here in Berlin when he memorably hoisted Berlino the Bear over his shoulders, and twice a European champion as well.

No wonder the tributes came in thick and fast and no wonder his success is recognised from beyond track and field.

A star guest for the ISTAF meeting on Sunday (2) was basketball legend LeBron James, arguably the greatest player of all-time, who handed Harting a special No 23 Los Angeles Lakers shirt.

It is that number he will be wearing for his new club when the season starts, by which time Harting will be able to put his feet up and watch the action from the USA knowing there is no winter training to get up for the next morning.

“I feel very honoured that so many people showed up,” said Harting as he took in the extent of his retirement party. “My last throw put everything in order for me. In the past I sometimes stood in my own way. It was great that for my goodbye I could prove myself one last time because that was a good performance.

“My self-confidence is back, I feel I could do some more competitions. But you should finish when you have your best times. Now, I really understand the meaning of this sentence. I left home a little sad because I knew that when I come back home I won't be a professional athlete anymore. Right now, I am really happy and hope I can take all the positive emotions with me.”

It was back in 2001 that Harting made his first mark on the global stage when he won silver at the World U18 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, before becoming the European U23 champion at home in Erfurt, Germany, four years later.

Success on the senior stage was not far away. After world silver in Osaka 2007, he celebrated the perfect moment, winning the world title in Berlin two years later in sensational style.

Second going into the final round to Poland’s Piotr Malachowski who led with 69.15m, Harting smashed his personal best with a breathtaking 69.43m to send the Olympic Stadium wild.

He retained the crown in Daegu before his Olympic glory in London where, with his shirt removed and covered by the German flag, his lap of honour saw him hurdling over the outside barriers to the delight of the crowd.

It was in that same summer that he won his first European crown in Helsinki, a title he retained in Zurich 2014 by which time he was world champion again after glory in Moscow in 2013.

And though he failed to make the Olympic final in Rio 2016 when a back injury scuppered his title defence, gold still went to a Harting as brother Christoph - five years his junior - took the title.

And after his win on Sunday, Christoph had nothing but praise for his sibling. “It is something really beautiful when great athletes end their careers. Robert always had his own head, his own opinion, and successes.

“A lot of people stayed after the meeting was over to stay with Robert for his lap of honour - of course, because it is a special sportsman who leaves the stage,” he said.

 

Estonia’s Gerd Kanter, the 2008 Olympic champion - who will also join Harting in retirement next week when he bows out at home in Tallinn - who was fifth in Berlin with 62.37m, joked that maybe he should carry on.

“This was a very emotional competition. Robert won everything, he is Olympic champion, world champion, European champion and if he feels that it is time to quit, it is his decision,” said Kanter. “However, I am five years older than him and still here. Just kidding!

“Robert has been the face of German athletics and of athletics in general. The audience will miss him and so will we. He always put up a big show wherever he was and he is just a great guy. It was a lot of fun throwing here at the ISTAF together with him.”

The dream might have been to go out with one final gold back in Berlin last month at the European Championships but that was not to be as he finished sixth. Yet it did nothing to take away the glory of this goodbye.

“I was in a good mood and I could not think too much about myself because of the amazing crowd that celebrated such a great party,” said Harting.

“During my career I am especially grateful about the people who let me be the person I really am. I am really proud that everything worked out pretty well.”