Australian record holder, Olympic and world championships medallist Mitch Watt formally announced his retirement from athletics yesterday.
In a moving and heartfelt post on his Facebook page, Mitch described the long, frustrating and costly path he tread in an attempt to turn Olympic silver from London into gold in Rio.
Mitch isn’t the sort of guy to pump up his own tyres so what the post didn’t say is that Mitch Watt is Australia’s best ever long jumper.
In a group of long leapers that includes fellow Olympic silver medallists Gary Honey and Jai Taurima, and our current star duo Fabrice Lapierre and Henry Frayne, for me, Mitch heads the list.
He burnt like a sparkler – strongly, spectacularly and briefly. But like a sparkler – it was better that he burnt briefly than never at all.
A review of his stats on the Athletics Australia historical results shows how brief and brightly he shone.
Add to this his Australian and Oceania record, Olympic silver, world championship silver and bronze, and world indoor bronze, five diamond league wins and the overall diamond race victory in 2011.
In many ways, Mitch was the reluctant star.
An incredible schoolboy talent he won the Australian All Schools long and triple jump as a junior before dabbling in AFL and rugby union. He returned to athletics in 2008 and just before the Beijing Olympics leapt 7.92m at the winter series meet on the Gold Coast. It was a performance that captured the attention of aficionados.
Mitch opened his 2009 season with his first eight metre jump (8.04m) on the Gold Coast – the first of 14 meets over eight metres that year – including 10 in succession. His PB went from 7.93m to 8.43m and with a 8.37m leap, he won the bronze medal at world championships in Berlin.
Injury struck in 2010 and Mitch missed the Commonwealth Games, but he returned in 2011 and was simply superb.
Take in these stats:
16 meets / 12 wins / 15 podiums / twelve 8m+ competitions including four over 8.40m.
His Australian and Oceania record of 8.54m from Stockholm still stands, although has often been under threat from Fabrice. Take a look at it here and remember the speed and brutal simplicity of Mitch at his best.
In London, at Crystal Palace, he had a foul that almost took him out of the pit and he ended the season with the silver medal from the world championship in Daegu.
My favourite memory of Mitch is the 2011 Australian championships at Olympic Park.
On one of the saddest days in the history of Australian athletics when our spiritual home was lost, Mitch honoured the great venue by winning his only Australian title.
His 8.44m that day occurred in front of the long jump family. All marvelled at his brilliance. It was like watching Michael Jackson in a private concert.
By 2012, the Achilles and calf issues that ended his career were more pronounced. Mitch’s blistering speed and effortless bounce left him and with it the confidence to attack the board with vigour. On reflection, his Olympic silver in London was a terrific performance, albeit short of the Olympic glory he was most certainly capable of achieving.
Mitch summed up his battles with injury yesterday:
“For me, it sucks that I achieved all that I did before the age of 24. I feel like I was just getting started. No one peaks at 24. No one. Especially in track & field. But I wouldn’t be the first athlete to retire thinking they had more to give, and I’m just grateful that all of this nonsense started after the London Olympics and not before.”
So say us all.
The sparkler has burnt out – but it had more spark than any other Australian long jumper.
Congratulations on a great career.