Champion looks beyond the pool
Eamon Sullivan at his restaurant Bib and Tucker. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

For the first time in his adult life, Eamon Sullivan can wake up without having to immediately turn his mind to injuries, stretching, physio and diving into a cold pre-dawn swimming pool.

As much as he loves swimming, his retirement yesterday brought with it a sense of relief he is free from the physical and emotional challenges which come with being a champion athlete.

While the triple Olympian, former world record holder and now, budding restaurateur, felt like he had more to give in the pool, a recurring left shoulder injury put an end to his decade-long professional swimming career.

Sullivan fought back from injury to win the 50m freestyle trials this year but his shoulder injury forced him to pull out of the Commonwealth Games squad.

In what he describes as a "bittersweet" decision, Sullivan, 28, realised he wasn't prepared to go through another Olympic preparation ahead of Rio in 2016.

"I can't deal with the emotion and how hard it is to come back from injuries any more. I've done it for so long and it's something I took pride in, overcoming injuries and performing well," he said yesterday.

"It's become a burden to always be injured and it's not what I feel like doing any more - as much as I love swimming."

Sullivan grew up in City Beach and started swimming at eight, encouraged by parents John and Pam who hoped it might ease his asthma. Ten years later he was competing in his first Olympics in Athens, and he went on to break world records and win two silver medals and a bronze in Beijing in 2008 - finishing .11 of a second away from gold in the 100m men's freestyle final.

While many sports stars struggle with life after competition, Sullivan is grateful he pursued his passion for food, culminating in him opening Subiaco cafe Louis Baxter and North Fremantle restaurant Bib & Tucker.

"It's time to start thinking where I want to go - do I do more with the restaurants, do some sort of apprenticeship, get into the cooking side of things or stay in the admin area," he said.

Being free of swimming commitments will give Sullivan more time to spend with his girlfriend lawyer Naomi Bass and his family, including his baby niece Ella.

Sullivan will appear on Channel 7's Sunrise program during the Commonwealth Games, and said he was confident the swim team had come a long way from the disappointing result during the London Games.

That period will also be remembered for the pre-Games bonding session involving sleeping drug Stilnox, which saw Sullivan and five other teammates fined by Swimming Australia.

Swimming WA's Jeanette Bailey said Sullivan was a true WA champion who "was capable of capturing the imagination of the WA public, the nation and the world with performances that are truly world class."

Swimming Australia chief executive Mark Anderson said: "As an athlete he's been the world's best and . . . has at all stages promoted the sport, especially in his home State of WA."

The West Australian

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