The Spring King RetiresJuly 22, 2014

For most athletes, their career is defined by the Olympic gold medal. This international sporting competition is held every four years and to represent the country is considered the highest honour. Interest in the Olympics increased through the decades, making it the most watchable event. This is why everyone trains hard for the gold.

When Eamon Sullivan announced his retirement from competitive swimming on July 16, there were responses of what if. The native of Perth, Western Australia was plagued with injury throughout his twelve-year career. In between months of rehabilitation, he produced moments of brilliance, setting the world record in the 50 and 100 meter freestyle in five occasions. But he neither won the gold in the Olympics nor the World Championships. Not even the Pacific Swimming Championships, another major tournament participated by Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States. But his peer disagreed.

"Even though this career was sometimes plagued with injuries, he always found it in himself through sheer determination to perform to the best of his ability, which made him one of the toughest and best sprinters Australia has ever seen. He has left a great mark on the sport which will be remembered forever," former Australian swimming champion Michael Klim said.

Sullivan was 18 years old when he took part in the 2004 Athens Olympics, being one of the six swimmers who qualified in the 400 meter freestyle relay. In the preliminary, he swam in the second leg in a time of 49.13 seconds, which Leigh Nugent, head coach of the Australian swimming team, noticed. He was picked to swim in the finals, along with Klim, Todd Pearson, and Ian Thorpe. Australia was the defending champion in the event, but they finished sixth. (South Africa finished first, followed by the Netherlands and the United States.)

Alexander Popov's world record time of 21.64 seconds in the 50 meter freestyle stood for eight years, an eternity by swimming standards. Sullivan surpassed it during the 2008 New South Wales State Championships with a time of 21.56 seconds. France's Alain Bernard eclipsed the Aussie's personal best at the European Championships a month later, finishing first with a time of 21.50 seconds. The record lasted a few days, as Sullivan broke the record twice during the Australian Championships & Olympic Trials. Fans were looking forward to their showdown at the Beijing Olympics. They were favourites, but it Brazil's César Cielo who won the gold. Bernard came in third while Sullivan finished sixth.

Sullivan did better in the other events. In the finals of the 400 meter freestyle relay, he swam the lead-off leg in 47.24 seconds, a new world record. This gave Australia an early lead, but his teammates couldn't maintained the pace, finishing third behind the US and France. In the blue-ribbon 100 meter freestyle event two days later, Bernard and Sullivan exchanged world-record performances to set up another showdown. (The French delivered a time of 47.20 in the first semifinals. A few minutes later, the Aussie had taken back the record with a time of 47.05.) The Aussie was the fastest in the first half of the finals, but the French catched up with him in the end.

Injuries hounded Sullivan during the following years. He planned to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, but his body couldn't keep up. He was 28.

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