RIO 2016: Meares ends Rio campaign, maybe her Olympic career
AUSTRALIAN team captain Anna Meares has likely ended her Olympic career, at the very least her Rio campaign with an emotional finish on Tuesday morning.
It wasn't the fairytale ending she wanted but a "very good" finish.
The 32-year-old Queenslander, who won a bronze medal in the keirin on Sunday, but failed to qualify for the sprint finals on Tuesday morning.
Meares will take some time to reflect on her cycling career beyond Rio, but a swansong at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast is a more likely scenario than another Olympic bid in Tokyo 2020.
"I've got to ask myself what I want, where I want to go. I need to assess my body, it's very difficult and tantalising with the Gold Coast (Commonwealth Games) being so close but I also am 32 and I want to give myself the chance to get some perspective and I can't do that in this environment," Meares said after being met with a multitude hugs and well wishes from her competitors and team staff from all nations in the track infield following her race.
"I'm going to take a year for myself, absolutely, but give me a week or two when I get home to talk to those people who are really important to me and then I'll let you know."
And despite all the rewrites of the record books when she won her bronze medal - which placed her as the only female cyclist ever to have won an Olympic medal in all four sprint events - the true team-oriented Meares revealed her moment of the Games to date was not the medal, nor was it carrying the flag.
Instead, it was the moment she was given the privilege of addressing Australia's 400-strong team at the official team session in the Athletes' Village in the days before the Games began.
"I would say the response that I got from my team after the speech I gave at the Inspire session at the start.
"To know that I could have an impact of such a positive nature for people who are so motivated and driven and inspired already I think that's a highlight."
The reigning Olympic sprint champion finished tenth overall at the Rio Olympic Velodrome.
Meares was sent through the repechage ringer twice in two days by a relentless women's sprint line up.
"For the first time in 22 years, my body, I just couldn't get any more out of it," Meares said.
"But major final or minor final I raced as hard as I could; anytime I put on this uniform I try to put myself in the best position to win and I did that, but just my legs gave way."
On Sunday, Meares qualified ninth fastest (10.947) with fellow four-time Olympian Simona Krupeckaite of Lithuania taking the win in their 1/16s clash to send Meares into her first ever Olympic sprint repechage round.
But as seen during three previous Olympic campaigns, it was a vintage fighting performance from Meares to take the second-chance round win to keep dreams of a seventh Olympic medal alive.
When the event continued on Monday, Wai Sze Lee of Hong Kong proved too strong in their 1/8 clash, pushing Meares back into another repechage, where she was just edged by reigning world champion Tianshi Zhong of China. Meares then went on to finish second in the 9th-12th place final to put her tenth.
"The perfectionist in me and the elite athlete that I've been for so long just finds it really hard to comprehend that result but at the same time I'm very proud because I knew that was going to be tough," Meares said.
"It's highs and lows, that's life. As heavy as I feel I'm still really proud of everything I've achieved and everything that I've done and I raced that minor final as I would have ridden an Olympic gold medal final.
"It just shows where sprinting has shifted in the women's discipline and unfortunately, my physical elements, I haven't been able to train in the capacity to stay in competition.
"I know that there will be a lot of criticism of my result in that event and believe me there's no one who will criticise me more than me."
"My best chances were always in the keirin and the team sprint and I delivered there and achieved my goals so I'm really proud, I'm really happy."
Meares is Australia's most successful track cyclist with 11 world championship titles and two Olympic gold medals and just the fourth Australian track cyclist to line up at four Olympics.
She won gold in the 500m time trial before going on to win bronze in the sprint in her Olympic Games debut in Athens.
Meares made an extraordinary comeback when she won a silver medal in the women's sprint cycling at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Seven months out from the Games she broke her neck in a race crash and after months of intensive rehab ensured she progressed through to the final where she went down to long-time rival Victoria Pendleton to win the silver medal.
Four years on and Meares had her shot at redemption at the London 2012 Games. Meares again lined up against Pendleton - this time in front of a parochial home crowd for one of the all-time greats - and clinched a famous victory.
Along with six Olympic medals - two gold, one silver, three bronze - Meares has also won eight Commonwealth Games medals, including five gold, across four Games.