Representative kayaker Steve Bird has made the decision to retire from elite sport with immediate effect, ending a fine career that saw him compete for Australia at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games.
In doing so, the 30 year-old became just the third Western Australian from the sport after Ramon Andersson and Lisa Russ (Oldenhof) to have earned the distinction of dual Olympian.
The South African born paddler was a regular on Australian teams over the past decade and he said the opportunity to have worn the colours of his adopted country at the highest level had been a privilege.
"Representing Australia has been a huge honour,” he said. "It has been challenging but rewarding. Aussies are passionate about sport, and I am grateful for the opportunity to position myself at the tip of the sword in this aspect.”
As a sprint specialist, Bird made Olympic finals at both London and Rio, and he said the experience of giving it his all for his country would remain a proud memory.
"The experience is so tangible. You are wearing the badge and going head to head with international opposition. To me, paddling for Australia meant representing an attitude of give it a go, have a crack and see where you end up.”
View this post on Instagram
THAT'S A WRAP 🤙🏼 It's been a big week of decision making. It is with excitement that I announce that Sprint Kayaking will no longer take centre stage of my life. Yes folks, this is a retirement post. 👊🏼 Put simply, I no longer have the same passion and drive that I once had, to train at the intensity required to compete at the highest level in this discipline. I have so much respect for this level, which does not deserve a mediocre effort. Along with this, I have grown curious about what else life has in store. So, what to say about a pursuit which I have obsessed over for the last 12 years. Sprint Kayak has been an amazing gift. The joy it has brought has been immense. I am proud that my body and mind have endured what it takes to compete against the best in the world. The places I have seen, people I have met, and cultures I have been exposed to, culminate into a feeling of pure contentment and satisfaction. I am not sad to be leaving this journey. I have squeezed everything I can out of it, and will look back fondly on my experiences. There are too many people to thank in one post. Family, friends, coaches, support staff, volunteers, sponsors. I am sincerely grateful. What would the journey be if it wasn't shared. So, this is me signing out of the sprint kayak world as an athlete. I will continue to follow avidly and dabble socially. To those that are still on the sprint kayak journey, I hope that you can squeeze out the same amount of joy that I have. 🙌🏼 Bon Voyage and Godspeed. SB.
He was a member of the Australian team that contested the World Championships in Portugal earlier this year and whilst Tokyo had been very much on his radar, he admitted that the decision to step away had taken place quickly.
"I just came to a very clear realisation that this wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore,” he said. "For me personally, selection requires undivided commitment and at this stage of my life, there are other areas that I’m eager to explore.”
In reflecting on his career, Bird was also quick to acknowledge the wide range of support afforded to him both locally and through the national program.
"I’m so grateful to my parents, my three siblings, my fiancée and my extended family both here and over in South Africa.
"I’d like to thank my coaches Ramon Andersson and Michael Pond, my long time doubles partner and friend Jesse Phillips, the WA Institute of Sport and Paddle Australia – and all of the support staff within both who have helped me over my career,” Bird said.
With a wedding on the horizon and a University degree also well advanced, Bird said he looked forward to the new opportunities ahead.
"I am extremely excited at what life will bring. At this point I am very green in the world outside of elite sport. Any experience is going to be a learning one.
"I plan to finish my Psychology degree as soon as possible. Combined with my experience at Olympic level sport, I plan to use the degree to work in the sporting industry, specifically with young athletes.
"I might further my studies in a couple years after gaining some experience in the work force. I am getting married next year to my legend partner Hannah and who knows what this might bring? Perhaps a few kids? I will continue to stay fit by competing in surf lifesaving, and definitely dust off the kayak every now and then.”