Back injury forces former Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton to retire
British heptathlete Kelly Sotherton has hung up her spikes just a matter of weeks before the London Olympics – an event she had planned to be her swansong.
The 35-year-old had returned to the seven-event discipline this year having temporarily switched to the 400m in 2011. She moved to the one-lap sprint because a long-term back injury had restricted her training for seven events, so training for just one was easier on her body.
But after a year of specialising, Sotherton was bored with training for just one event and returned to her first love, the heptathlon, in a bid to make the British team for the London 2012 Olympics.
Earlier this month she took part in the Multistars competition in Italy in the quest to achieve the qualifying standard for the Games. But in the final event of the first day, the 200m, Sotherton’s back injury came back to haunt her and she was forced to withdraw.
A consultation with a doctor when she returned to the UK revealed that she would need an operation to remove a piece of disc from her spine and would need six weeks in which to recuperate – leaving Sotherton with no time in which to achieve the qualifying standard.
“I thanked (the doctor) for being optimistic but there’s no chance,” Sotherton told the Mail on Sunday. “You have to know when to stop.”
“As soon as it went I knew that was it,” she added. “I could hardly walk and could hardly move. At that moment, I said ‘It’s over’. I cried and I think it was hard for Paula (Clayton, her soft tissue therapist) and Aston (Moore, her coach) to see because I was a gibbering wreck.
“I can laugh now. But I was red-faced and it was quite embarrassing leaving the track because I don’t want people to see me like that.
“I had already prepared myself for what he would say and that rubber-stamped it. After that it was, ‘Okay, it’s a relief now’.”
Sotherton’s career as an international heptathlete spans back to 1997 when, as a 20-year-old, she finished 10th at the European Under-23 Championships. Five years later she made her first appearance at a major senior championships, finishing seventh at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
She broke 6000 points for the first time in 2003, but her big breakthrough came one year later at the Athens Olympics when she set three PBs en route to winning a surprise bronze medal, scoring a lifetime best of 6424 – just 11 points shy of the silver medal.
In 2005 Sotherton improved her heptathlon PB to 6547 – a performance that puts her at fourth on the UK all-time list. Despite battling an injury in 2006, she won the Commonwealth gold in Melbourne. One year later she took bronze at the World Championships in Osaka.
Sotherton finished fourth in the heptathlon at the 2008 Olympics, before being drafted into the 4x400m team where she ran an incredible 50.35 split – significantly faster than individual Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu.
She excelled indoors too, and picked up silver medals at three major events – two at the European Indoor Championships in 2005 and 2007, pushing Swedish star Carolina Kluft all the way on both occasions – and one at the 2008 World Indoor Championships. Her score of 4927 set in 2007 remained the UK record until Jessica Ennis bettered it in 2010.
Earlier this year Sotheron was part of the Channel 4 commentary team for the World Indoor Championships. She now plans to enjoy the Olympics as a fan and will be supporting Ennis as well as her other British team-mates.
On the day Sotherton announced her retirement, her partner, triple jumper Nathan Douglas, will be making his long-awaited return to competition in Hengelo today, having been sidelined with injury for the past two years.