Reigning Olympic and three-time European high jump champion Ruth Beitia has announced that she is retiring from the sport after battling with injuries.
As she bows out, she does so with the finest compliment she could ever have. “The greatest athlete in Spanish history has retired. She has always been an example on and off the track. She has inspired athletics and inspired young boys and girls, ” said Raul Chapado, President of the Spanish Athletics Federation.
At 38, her body could not allow her to have one final tilt at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin next summer where she would have chased a fourth successive title after Helsinki in 2012, Zurich in 2014 and Amsterdam in 2016 where she became the first athlete in championship history to claim the title on three occasions.
Beitia followed her gold medal in Amsterdam by winning gold at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Spaniard was the oldest athlete in the final by four years but her vast experience played to her advantage in a nerve-jangling competition as she cleared each height up to - and including - 1.97m on her first attempt to land the title on countback.
At 37 - and competing in her fourth Olympics - Beitia became the oldest athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in a horizontal or vertical jumps event. The accolades kept on rolling in as she was then named female European Athlete of the Year at the Golden Tracks awards ceremony in Funchal, Portugal last October.
"It has been a long road that has lasted many years and I have pushed my body to the limit on many occasions. The situation I face (now) is to finish my sporting career but everything I have learnt will touch the other aspects of my life," said Beitia on announcing her retirement.
She bows out after not only an amazing career but being one of the real characters of the sport. Her victories – and there were many of them – would always be accompanied by a huge smile and a ferocious clapping of her hands to herself as she digested the level of her achievement.
Beitia, who first competed internationally in 1996, won an amazing 15 medals at the major championships and had a personal best of 2.02m from 2007. Along with her Olympic and three European outdoor golds, Beitia also won four world indoor and outdoor medals along with six medals at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, including gold in Gothenburg in 2013.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of her success was that she got better with age, with her greater success arriving the older she became.
She is the only Spanish woman to have secured an Olympic title in athletics in a career where she first retired after London 2012 where she just missed out on the medals. “It was perhaps my last chance to get an Olympic medal, but now I look back and see fourth place in London more positively. I thought about leaving athletics – thank goodness I didn't!" she said.
Along with athletics success, she has also worked in politics, being elected six years ago to the regional parliament of Cantabria.
After a final hurrah at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade where she won a silver medal behind Lithuania’s Airine Palsyte, injuries took their toll this summer and Beitia was last in the World Championships final in London where she only cleared 1.88m.
But few will remember that. When the sport thinks of Beitia, they will see her smile beaming out from the top of the podium.
She will be a hard act for the rest to follow.
Beitia’s major honours
2001 European U23 champion
2005 European indoor silver medallist
2005 Mediterranean Games champion
2006 World indoor bronze medallist
2007 European indoor bronze medallist
2009 European indoor silver medallist
2010 World indoor silver medallist
2011 European indoor silver medallist
2012 European champion
2013 European indoor champion
2013 World bronze medallist
2014 World indoor bronze medallist
2014 European champion
2016 World indoor silver medallist
2016 European champion
2016 Olympic champion
2017 European indoor silver medallist