Four-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Dani Stevens has bid farewell to competitive athletics, announcing her immediate retirement this morning.
One of the world’s best discus throwers for more than a decade, Stevens’ impressive resume boasts the 2009 world title, three Commonwealth Games medals including two gold, a World Junior Championship title and a World Youth title, on top of appearances at four Olympic Games, six World Championships, four World/Continental Cups and three Commonwealth Games.
The Australian, Oceania and Commonwealth record holder in the women’s discus also won 14 Australian titles; the most by any athlete in a single event. Her selection to 15 senior teams over an 18-year international career also sees Stevens retire as one of Australia’s most enduring Australian track and field representatives of all time.
“I had always said that as long as my mind and body were able to, I would keep going, keep training and keep competing internationally. I took the time a few years ago and decided that I wanted to compete at the Tokyo Olympics for my fourth Games, and I’ve been doing things so meticulously from training, to nutrition and sleep. I’ve gotten to the point where I am really content and happy with everything that I’ve achieved in my athletics career and feel that now is the right time to step away,” Stevens said.
“As an athlete, it’s often easy to underestimate the work that goes into that commitment physically and mentally. I’ve had my blinkers on for more than a decade so when I came to that decision to retire, I felt weight lift off my shoulders and I realised that I’m ready for a new chapter, new experiences and a new phase of life.”
Now 33, Stevens began her discus career at the age of 10 at Greystanes Little Athletics Club in Sydney, and it was not long before she was earmarked as prodigious talent. She is one of only nine athletes worldwide to win world champions at the youth, junior and senior level in athletics, and her 2009 world title saw her become the youngest ever discus world champion.
Following her history-making title, Stevens went on to win World University Games and Commonwealth Games gold in 2014. At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she placed fourth, just missing a medal by 44cm, but climbed back on the podium at the London 2017 World Championships. In London, she unleashed a throw of 69.64m to secure silver and set herself a new personal best by 1.65m. The throw would have won the previous 12 world championships and won the last five Olympic Games since 2000 and set new Oceania, Commonwealth and Australian records.
The following year she won the Commonwealth Games title on home soil, but troublesome years with injury ensured, with Stevens undergoing spinal surgery after an incident in the gym saw her shatter her C4/5 disc in her neck. Despite being told she may never get full function back, she overcame the odds after 14 months of rehabilitation to return to competition and secure her place at her fourth and final Olympic Games, where she co-captained the Australian Athletics Team.
“When I think of my life, I think about how athletics is linked to everything in some way. My earliest memories are of my mum, my dad and sister going to Little Athletics on a Friday night and Saturday morning. In primary school, I made the Under 13 team for Nationals where I met my best friends. I didn’t know it at the time, but my husband (former Australian representative shot putter Joe Stevens) was on the Queensland team,” she said.
“It’s hard to pick a favourite moment in my career. Winning my world title was an incredible feeling but there are ones where I didn’t win, but the feeling was just the same. I think about achieving PBs on the world stage and it was that elicited joy, that feeling of happiness that I can’t explain. Another two moments that stand out to me were two Australian Commonwealth Games teams that I was on. In 2006, I threw a PB on my last throw with my family and friends watching from the front row of the MCG, and then fast forward to 2018, I won in front of my family and friends on the Gold Coast. Being able to do that lap of honour in front of my family, Joe’s family and all of our friends. They are all highlights for different reasons but they were so fulfilling and joyful because they were moments I could share with the people that mean the most to me.
“I’ve always said that any medal I won, I wish I could break into 10 different pieces and hand them out to the people around me. That inner circle of mine has sacrificed so much and they are the result of what we set out to achieve as a team.”
Stevens thanked all those who played a part in her career, with a special mention to her coach Denis Knowles who has coached her since she first picked up a discus as a Little Athlete.
“Denis is one of my best friends. He brought out my passion, my dedication and my motivation and allowed me to reach my potential. It is so special to have met Denis when I was so young and have him by my side throughout my career. He’s given up so much of his time to be at the track at 7pm in winter, watching and coaching someone as young as 10 because my life ambition was to be the best thrower. And so it became his ambition,” Stevens said.
“He has sacrificed as much as I have, if not more when it comes to time away from family and all that goes along with it. Denis has been there for me at all times, through the highs and lows of not just athletics but of my life. We are closer than most athlete and coaches and I believe that’s why we have been so successful.”
Athletics Australia Chief Executive Officer Peter Bromley thanked Stevens for her contribution to the Australian athletics family, stating: “Throughout her career, Dani was an integral member of the Australian Athletics Team, not only for incredible performances but for being a leader and role model within the wider community. She joined rare company when she became a four-time Olympian, and with such a list of accolades, she now enters the next stage of her life with a special place in Australian athletics history.
“While she will most definitely be missed, we know those champion qualities will undoubtedly serve her well in the future in whatever she chooses to do. On behalf of Athletics Australia, I’d like to say thank you to Dani and congratulations on your contribution to our sport.”
Athletics Australia General Manager, High Performance Andrew Faichney said Stevens’ attitude and enthusiasm over the years has been inspiring and has set the tone for athletes to follow in her footsteps.
“Dani’s selection to her fourth Olympic Games was an outstanding achievement, particularly after her injury, but it was another milestone in what has been a remarkable career,” Faichney said.
“As thoughtful and selfless she is off the track, she is one of the fiercest competitors we have ever seen in our sport and her dominance at national and international level has been a pleasure to witness over the years. Dani’s success, her hard work and leadership skills have inspired a whole generation of athletes and we’re proud of all she has achieved.”