RETIREMENTS come early and often in sport. Most cause only a ripple, some go unnoticed entirely.

But every so often, an athlete’s departure feels like more than just a full stop in one individual’s career. Sometime, it feels like the end of an era.

One of those came last week when Hannah Miley, one of the greatest swimmers this country has produced, announced she was hanging up her goggles.

It is no overstatement to say  Miley has been a trailblazer. Since her debut on the international scene, she racked up more than  two dozen major championships medals, with perhaps the most notable her successful defence of the Commonwealth Games 400m individual medley title in home waters at Glasgow 2014.

Miley also, though, became all too familiar with the heartbreak elite sport can cause. Having won medals on the World, European and Commonwealth stage, the one piece of silverware that eluded her was an Olympic medal.

Her fourth place in the 400m IM final at Rio 2016, in what turned out to be her final Olympic appearance, was one of the most agonising near misses you could see but she remained resolute and magnanimous at all times.

For so long, Miley was the sole female flying the flag for Scotland on the international scene and there is barely a young female swimmer in this country these days that does not cite Miley as one of their primary inspirations.

She proved that despite her petite frame, success was possible in a sport that was full of women who towered above her. And the 32-year-old absolutely debunked the myth that female swimmers are past their best by their mid-twenties.

To highlight Miley’s longevity, I was in several teams alongside her – two Commonwealth Games and an Olympics – and I have been retired almost a decade. That she is only relaxing into retirement now is remarkable.

And the fact she was able to sustain such a high standard over such a lengthy period is something few have the physical or mental capacity to come close to.

Perhaps Miley’s most important legacy will be that she showed it is possible to become one of the world’s best while remaining close to your roots. Born and bred in Inverurie, the furthest she  relocated to, for any length of time anyway, was to Aberdeen.

Many of her sessions were at the crack of dawn in a 25m pool; a fact met with disbelief by many of her international rivals.

That Scottish swimming is now teaming with top-quality female swimmers is, in no small part, down to Miley.

There are few better tributes than that.


There have been few stories in sport in recent memory that have been quite as compelling as that of Elise Christie. Few are unaware of the successes but perhaps more pertinently, also the failures of Scotland’s most successful speed skater.

A world record holder and a multiple world and European champion, Christie’s name is, nevertheless, synonymous with Olympic failure.

Having gone into the 2014 Winter Olympics as a medal favourite, she was disqualified in all three of her events for separate rule violations.

Her next Olympic appearance, in 2018, could not, it seemed, go any worse.

We were wrong. In Pyeongchang, she crashed out of her first two events and was disqualified in her third. Her devastation was palpable through the television screen.

Christie’s career has also been blighted by mental health challenges, some of which, she has since said, stemmed from her Olympic failures and the online abuse she received in the aftermath.

It was hoped Christie would gain her Olympic redemption in Beijing in February at the 2022 Winter Games. There are few who deserve a slice of luck more than Christie.

However, it is not to be with the 31-year-old set to watch the Games from her sofa.

An ankle injury that has plagued her all season has, she says, set her back too far and with fellow Scot Kathryn Thomson ahead of her in the qualifying race, Christie looks almost certain to miss out.

The Livingston athlete’s disappointment is, understandably, acute, saying her “heart is shattered”.

There is a misconception in elite sport that if you keep plugging away for long enough, things will come good. For some, this is true.

But for others, they never get that stroke of luck that is required to do something as spectacular as win an Olympic medal.

There is every chance that had Christie gone to Beijing in February, she would still not have got her hands on  silverware. But to be deprived of the opportunity is a cruel twist in the story of an athlete who has already experienced lower lows than most athletes ever will.

Christie’s career is not, she says, over, with the triple world champion vowing to return.

Let’s hope that’s true.

She will be 35 by the 2026 Winter Olympics, which is on the far end of the spectrum when it comes to elite sport but by no means over the hill.

Let’s hope she finds the drive and determination to continue until then.

To see her, finally, step on to the Olympic podium would be one of the greatest triumphs of any Scottish athlete in history.