By Craig Lord
MANCHESTER, England, March 15. STEPHEN Parry, Athens Olympic bronze medal winner in the 200 butterfly, Athens, has announced his retirement on the eve of the British Championships in Manchester.
His recovery from an operation of a slipped disc meant that the 28-year-old from Liverpool was never going to be able to compete this week at an event that doubles as trials for the World Championships. But he had considered making the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next year his swan song "because it would be just terrific to thrash the Aussies in their own water".
Currently in the United States, Parry spent the weekend making his mind up before announcing his decision.
"I've trained long and hard to realize my dream of winning an Olympic medal and now (that) I have achieved my goal I feel it is right and proper to retire from the sport I love at the very top,” Parry said. “I want my medal swim at the Olympics to be my last 200 butterfly. I want to savor that most memorable moment of my career."
Among the rare moments that caused American Michael Phelps to wonder on his way to winning four individual gold medals in Athens may have been when Parry drove down the third lap of the 200 butterfly to almost draw level. The last lap home saw Phelps surge ahead but Parry held on for third, a touch behind Japan's Takashi Yamamoto. Parry posted a Commonwealth record of 1:55.52 in the fastest 200 butterfly race in history.
"Having broken that Commonwealth record in the semifinals, I went to bed for the first time in my life thinking I could win the gold medal," said Parry. But he was "immensely proud" of the bronze medal and the way he handled the pressure of an Olympic final.
“You stand out there and say, ‘this is me, I’ve put everything on the line and if it’s not good enough I’ll walk away.’ I don’t know why I put myself through it. It’s fascinating, terrifying. I closed my eyes, gritted
my teeth, said my prayers and got in there,” said Parry.
Winner of the European junior title in the 200 fly in 1994, Parry went on to become one of the most successful Britain seniors in his 10-year international career. Highlights included finishing sixth in Sydney 2000, the European short-course crown in 2002 and bronze medals at European long and short-course championships in 1997 and 2000 respectively.
At the Commonwealth Games at his home training pool in Manchester in 2002, he contributed to England's finest ever performance in the pool with a silver medal in his pet event and bronze as a member of the 4 x 200 free relay.
Parry thanked his parents for a lifetime of support, as well as the teachers and coaches who had helped him along the way, including Colin Stripe at Liverpool, Dave Calleja at Manchester and, in the lead-up to his
finest moment in Athens, Sean Kelly at Stockport.
"It is so important to have a great support network around you,” Parry said. “Sean is the guy that made it all happen for me and his philosophy of coaching the swimmer and not the event will carry on producing champions for years to come. He is a great friend and mentor."
He also praised the role of Bill Sweetenham, national performance
"While I won't miss Bill getting me up at 4:45 a.m. while on training camps, without his drive and determination I am not sure I would have finally got there,” Parry said.
Sweetenham returned the compliment: "Steve is the epitome of persistence. To be able to stay in the sport as long as he has and win an Olympic medal in your final year says a lot about the resilience and drive of the athlete. He sets the standard for others to aspire to. His leadership qualities will be missed on every team – he's a natural born leader and his shoes won't easily be filled."