Three-time Commonwealth Games hammer medallist Julia Ratcliffe has announced her retirement this morning at age 29.
Ratcliffe, who won gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, said she is stepping away from athletics after enjoying a fulfilling career at the top level.
"I've done all the senior competitions available to me," Ratcliffe said.
"I know I can throw further, but I also know what that would take out of me. The extra joy that would come from throwing another 50cm is not worth the blood, sweat and tears of all that hard training anymore.
"I look back with huge fondness on my time in the sport, I just now want to try something new."
Ratcliffe's career started out at the Hamilton City Hawks, leading to her introduction to the hammer at the age of 12.
With her father Dave coaching her, Ratcliffe made her first mark in the sport in 2009 at age 15 when she was selected to the World under-18 Championships in Bressanone, Italy, placing 10th.
Ratcliffe continued to develop and just two years later won the first of her six senior national hammer titles in Dunedin. The following year she broke the national senior record with a 67.00m effort at the under-20 championships in Barcelona.
Her junior success "lit a fire" in her to proceed with the sport after graduating from Waikato Diocesan School in 2011, moving to the US to continue her training and studies at Princeton University.
That led to more improvements on her national record with a 68.80m effort in 2012 before a breakout season in 2014.
In April, she launched the hammer beyond 70m for the first time, bettering her New Zealand record with a best of 70.28m and later that year proved her competitive mettle by striking gold at the NCAA Championships and winning a silver medal, aged just 21, at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games with 69.96m.
Ratcliffe then added another NCAA silver in 2015 as well as a bronze at the World University Games.
Despite nursing a shoulder injury in the build up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Ratcliffe fired when it mattered most to win gold with a 69.94m throw.
"Nothing can quite beat that feeling of standing on top the podium, seeing the flag go up, hearing the national anthem, knowing you are the reason why that anthem is being played," Ratcliffe recalled.
"It was very special."
Ratcliffe then took the Oceania record in 2019 with a 71.39m throw to win gold at the Oceania Championships in Townsville - a mark she bettered in 2020 with a 72.35m effort at home in Hamilton to win her fifth national tittle.
Then came some of the biggest throws of her career in 2021; twice she bettered her personal best at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings, capped with a new Oceania record of 73.55m.
Later that year she made her Olympic debut at the delayed Games in Tokyo, throwing 73.20m to qualify sixth for the final before eventually finishing ninth.
"I was immensely satisfied with how I performed in Tokyo," she explained. "Having waited a year because of the postponed Games to finally get there and technically own my first qualification throw, I am so proud."
In what was now her final year of competition, Ratcliffe won a third successive Commonwealth Games medal with a silver in Birmingham - an effort she managed despite revealing to 1News she had Covid just days before competition.
"When my career achievements are written down, it is quite overwhelming," she said.
"I still think of myself as a kid from Hamilton who throws hammers in the backyard with dad. To think I went on to perform as a high-performance international athlete, and what dad and I went on to achieve together is very cool."
Ratcliffe said her father being by her side as her coach, number one supporter and friend made the journey that much more special.
"Dave has been the mastermind and driver of this whole project," Ratcliffe said. "I wouldn't have picked up a hammer had dad not suggested it, and he has taken me to higher heights than I ever dreamed possible. Big kudos to him for dreaming big and staying the course. For having that long term vision and dedication and perseverance to show up each year."