Loughborough, Leicestershire, Great Britain, December 16. An international swimming career spanning over a decade has been brought to an end with the announcement through British Swimming that World Champion James Hickman has retired.
The 28-year-old City of Manchester Aquatics athlete announced his departure from the sport following a busy 2004 which saw him secure his fifth consecutive World Short Course Championship 200m Butterfly title, gain a silver in the 100m event and make an Olympic final.
The three-time Olympian was due to officially end his career at the European Short Course Championships in Vienna last week but a slight injury forced him to withdraw.
Hickman's senior international career, which started at the Commonwealth Games in 1994, has delivered a haul of 36 medals at World, European and Commonwealth level as well as a host of World, European, Commonwealth and British Records.
"I love the sport and have enjoyed swimming immensely but the time is right for me to retire," said Hickman. "I've had a great year and I always wanted to go out on a high.
The Butterfly specialist will certainly be kept busy in his retirement, however, with many opportunities on the horizon.
"I'm really looking forward to the future. I've closed the book on swimming and opened a new one. The direction of it isn't known as yet but it's so exciting.
"I'm exploring lots of different projects at the moment. I'm working with my sponsor Speedo, which has put a lot of time and investment in me over the years, and I'll also be working on Manchester's staging of the 2008 World Championships (25m).
"I'm very keen to get involved with the media and I'm also exploring marketing and public relation opportunities at the moment."
In the short term, Hickman is looking forward to a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas away from the water – something he hasn't had for many years.
"I've been out of the pool just a week now so I really don't know how to feel. It's hard to imagine it's permanent at the moment but I'm sure the next time I go to an event and see what other swimmers are doing it will really hit me.
"The sport has become more and more professional as well as a whole lot tougher during my time but I've really enjoyed the challenge this brings. I will miss it badly but it's just the start of something new."
A keen Manchester City fan, Hickman gained inspiration to succeed as a swimmer from Olympic gold medalist Adrian Moorhouse and his toughest opponent within his long career has been British team mate and close rival Olympic medalist Steve Parry.