Wiping tears from her eyes, Australian swimming’s golden girl Stephanie Rice was forced to bow to the inevitable and abandon the Commonwealth Games.
The triple Beijing Olympic gold medal winner had hoped to put off surgery on her inflamed right shoulder until after spearheading the Australian squad at the Delhi Games in October but pain finally made her accept she should stop swimming immediately.
If she delayed the arthroscopic surgery, the 22-year-old Queenslander risked permanent damage and derailing her hopes at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I think it is the right decision,” said Rice, who at one point during her announcement burst into tears and had to walk away to compose herself.
The decision came a day after she swam a 50m butterfly heat on day one at the Pan Pacific Championships in California.
Rice failed to make the final and was scheduled to swim two other events, however the shoulder injury flared.
“The real test was how it would pull up after a hard race,” Rice said. “It pulled up really sore.”
Rice will fly home and undergo the operation in Melbourne within two weeks, leaving a big hole in the Australian team at the PanPacs and Commonwealth Games.
“She is the spearhead of our women’s team, if not the whole team,” said Australian team head coach Leigh Nugent.
“To have someone of Steph’s calibre and persona not to be representing on the team is a disappointment not only for her, (her coach) Michael (Bohl) but the whole team and I think that transfers to the Australian public. Rice’s team-mates echoed Nugent.
“Losing a team-member is devastating,” said fellow Olympic gold medalist Leisel Jones. Rice had been expected to swim the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, the 400m IM and 4x200m relay at the Commonwealth Games, Nugent said.
Rice won the 200m IM and 400m IM gold at the Beijing Olympics and led the Australian women to first in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
She is now focused on getting her shoulder right ahead of next year’s national trials for the 2011 world championships.
“They have told me rehab is 12 weeks. I guess four weeks out of the water if surgery goes well,” Rice said.
Rice’s injury is not just one inflamed joint in her shoulder, but three joints, making surgery inevitable.
She has had seven cortisone injections in the shoulder, which is three more than what doctors recommend. If she had more it could cause structural damage that could end her career. “It is really inflamed,” Rice said.
“There’s three joints in your shoulder – the bursar, the capsule and a joint – and they are all inflamed.
“It’s not just one problem so I can get rid of one issue, but the others are there.
“I have to have a clean out surgery.
Thankfully I don’t have to have a reconstruction so it is a shorter rehab.” “It’s very disappointing, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games was a fantastic event to be part of, and for me personally, and I was really looking forward to the colour and excitement of Delhi.
“To not be able to compete at 100 per cent here at the PanPacs has been hard enough, but to make the decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games has been very difficult.”