In the age of professionalism where big contracts or the bright lights of the world’s biggest stages can seduce athletes into prolonging their careers, triple-Olympian Alana Quade (nee Boyd) has bucked the trend and bowed out at the peak of her powers.
The pole vaulter broke her own Australian record just months ago and came within a whisker of a medal at Rio, but decided she was ready for the next chapter of her life and jumped gracefully into retirement. The Queenslander sat down with Commentary Box Sports’ Dave McLenaghan for this one-one-one interview.
DM: Congratulations on a stellar career, Alana. Was there an exact moment when you knew it was time to retire or did you come to the decision a different way?
AQ: Most athletes focus on the Olympic Games and that four-year cycle because it is the pinnacle for us. For me, I thought if I could go to a third Olympic Games I would be 32 at that point and that would be an amazing career and a good way to finish. A spanner was thrown in the works though when I came out and had the best year I have ever had and set a couple of new personal best jumps and pushed the Australian record a little higher. There were moments at the beginning of the year where I thought I could keep going but going to Rio, the main focus was coming away with the best possible outcome. I probably knew coming back from Rio that I was satisfied with what I had done at the Olympics. I was satisfied with my whole career. I then had six to eight weeks after that point where I got married and made sure I happy with that decision.
Take a bow Alana!
— Athletics Australia (@AthsAust) October 26, 2016
DM: You just mentioned the wedding. Besides the big day, how have you been passing the time since the announcement?
AQ: We (husband, Ryan Quade) went on our honeymoon to New Zealand which was pretty cool. It was so nice to have a real holiday for the first time in my life where I didn’t put on a pair of joggers for the purpose of doing structured training. It was nice to enjoy that. Now, back in reality, my husband has a building company (Qspec) and I have been doing the accounts for the business the last year or so and I am still doing that and taking a more active role in the business. He certainly keeps me busy in the office!
DM: Your list of achievements is a long one. If you could go back in time to relive one of your highlights, which one would it be?
AQ: The biggest highlight for me is my performance in Rio, despite not walking away with a medal. To jump one centimetre below my personal best at the biggest sporting event in the world, I cannot be disappointed with that. I did not have the greatest preparation leading into the Games and that made it difficult, but at the same time it made it more satisfying because of that. You cannot beat an Olympics. To go and relive that would be amazing.
DM: You won two Commonwealth Games gold medals (Delhi and Glasgow). Where do you keep the jewellery?
AQ: I have them in a safe at the moment. I pull them out when I am giving presentations at schools for kids. They love seeing and holding the medals. Maybe one day I will get them framed. I think it is good to be able to display them. I know my parents had their Commonwealth Games gold medals in a shoe box for a long time! It seems like a bit of a waste as it is something to be very proud of.
DM: When you went to the 2008 Olympics it marked the first time a child of two former Olympians (Ray and Denise) competed in an Australian Olympic team. That’s a nice bit of history to make, isn’t it?
AQ: It is. I remember that year, leading into the Olympic trials, I did not actually have a qualifying performance despite a number of competitions where I got so close to it. I knew I had it in me to jump that height. It wasn’t until the weekend before the Olympic trials that I actually cleared the height I needed and I had to do it twice and win the trial to be automatically selected. It was a bit of a surreal feeling I think, and to join my parents and make Olympic history was amazing, and then to do it again four years later as a dual Olympian as both my parents are, is pretty special. I don’t know if it has been done again since.
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) August 2, 2016
DM: Your father is an esteemed athletics coach who mentored you. Will you follow Ray into coaching?
AQ: Down the track it is definitely a possibility. I think I have actually been roped into helping some of his athletes at a competition in a few weeks’ time because he cannot attend so I will be out there coaching them. I will pop my head out every now and then but right now for me, I am enjoying my time away from the track after a pretty long career as an athlete. Who knows? Down the track I could get into coaching. It is not out of the question.
DM: For us mere mortals who have not competed at an Olympic Games or World Championships before, can you describe to us any differences between the two big meets?
AQ: The scale, size and enormity of the Olympics trumps the World Championships. It is the pinnacle of my sport. In terms of competing, the standard of the World Championships and Olympics is pretty much the same. With the Olympics held every four years compared to every two years for a World Championships, there is more importance and prestige placed on an Olympic medal.
DM: Your personal best jump of 4.81 metres set earlier this year was an Australian record. How long do you think it will stand for?
AQ: I hope it will be around for a few years to come. Pushing it up that little bit higher this year has perhaps put it out of reach for a little bit longer. Hopefully not forever. I would like to see the sport progress in Australia and I think Nina Kennedy has the next best jump (4.59 m) and she has a long career ahead of her. Hopefully she can get up to the height (4.81 m) at some point in time during her career. Hopefully it is a motivation for younger girls to know that it is possible to jump those heights.
DM: Australian athletics will launch a revamped competition structure next year, the Nitro Summer Athletics League. Eight teams will compete against each other over four rounds. Do you think it will work?
AQ: I guess the idea behind it is to draw crowds to watch athletics and make it short and sharp and make it more exciting for spectators and sponsors. I can see where they are going with the format and they won’t know until they try it. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. The idea is to build the sport’s profile, get more kids involved and ultimately have more success at the elite level. They have to try something and it will be the year after an Olympic year and hopefully it will be successful.