Multiple 4x400m major medallist on why she decided to retire from track and field
Emily Diamond has something bigger in her life than just the cycle of training and competition.
Last November, the Olympic, world and European 4x400m medallist gave birth to her son George and perspective both on and off the track has changed.
Soft play has now replaced winter training and while Diamond tells AW that retirement was a tough decision, especially with just a year to go until the Paris Olympics, she was “mentally done”.
Unsurprisingly, Diamond received thousands of supportive messages online from athletes past and present to those who just watched her compete for Great Britain on TV.
“It’s been a long process and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for many months,” she tells AW. “I had my baby back in November last year and as I stated on my [Instagram] post, I had the full intention of coming back and trying to make the team for the Paris Olympics.
“However, as the months passed and my little boy got older I realised I didn’t have the same desire to go to training and to put in the hours, both on and off the track, that I needed to do. I didn’t want to force it so I decided to step away. I’m glad I’ve been able to control that it’s not taken away from me.
“It’s been so nice to spend the last year with him [George]. When I’ve been training I’ve taken him to the track and balanced training around his nap time or feeding schedule for example. It’s certainly a juggling act! I was getting to a point that I would rather go to soft play with him than go to the track and run 6x300ms.
“That’s when I thought my priorities were changing and training was becoming more of a chore than actually wanting to go. It was all that I’ve known for the past 14 years but it wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Admitting that took a little bit of time as I had that process engraved but I thought I didn’t have to do this anymore.”
Not many athletes can say they’ve represented their country at three Olympics. Paris would’ve been Diamond’s fourth consecutive Games and while there was enticement [to try and qualify for Paris], spending quality time with George was so important.
“Was it an easy decision to retire? No, not at all.” she says. “I think because the Olympics are just nine months away it was tough. My friends and family had offered childcare for example and were conscious that I didn’t look back and regret not trying to go to Paris.
“That played on my mind a bit but then I thought that I’ve been so grateful to be part of three Olympic teams. Although a fourth would’ve been amazing, especially as Paris is so local, I would’ve been forcing it on myself and miss time with my little boy. I want to enjoy that while he is still small!”
Diamond can now reflect on a career that would make a lot of athletes envious.
Her greatest successes came in the relays. Diamond has won an Olympic 4x400m bronze (Rio 2016) and world silver medal (London 2017).
She is also a European 4x400m champion (Amsterdam 2016) and also won two bronze medals over the distance (Zurich 2014 and Berlin 2018).
Starting off as a 200m athlete, Diamond made European and world junior finals in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Diamond was selected for Great Britain at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen and achieved a bronze medal in the 4x400m. A year later, she switched to the 400m and finished fourth at the Olympic trials in 53.36.
That meant she got a call-up to the six-strong 4x400m squad at London 2012. For Diamond, who was still in the final year of a scholarship in sports and exercise science at Loughborough University, such an achievement was out of this world.
“It was a home Olympics and it had all the hype,” Diamond adds. “I went into it so young that I didn’t have any pressure on myself in terms of being selected. I went as part of the squad of six girls and as I was so new to the event I went for the experience. Had I had the chance to run, I would’ve stepped up and done well for the team. It was just being part of the squad and it was my first senior international.
“To see how Christine Ohuruogu, especially that she was the reigning Olympic 400m champion, held herself around the holding camp and the village was inspirational. I was able to take all of that experience into Rio 2016 and just being at London 2012 in that environment helped me four years later.”
Getting used to all the noise around the Olympics was vital for Diamond four years later at Rio 2016.
There, she raced with Eilidh Doyle, Anyika Onuira and Ohuruogu in the final and claimed a bronze medal, behind the US and Jamaica.
“I cried on the podium getting the medal,” Diamond tells AW. “Calling myself an Olympian was something but to actually say you were an Olympic medallist was something I dreamt of growing up. It’s hard to put into words. To experience that with four other girls was amazing. We got back at about 2am to the village and then was up at 6am to do media the next day.
“You know, you’d be in the lift with Tom Daley, you’d see Simone Biles in the dining hall and then recognise Michael Phelps. You’ve seen them on TV so when you’re there it’s learning to not be intimidated or distracted. So, going into Rio 2016, I had all that perspective. Including the free 24/7 McDonalds! In Rio we could actually see it our of our window and could assess the queue situation to pop down.”
Her third consecutive Olympics, in Tokyo, were remembered for the Covid restrictions and the fact that the quartet of herself, Ama Pipi, Jodie Williams and Nicole Yeargin ran 3:22.59 but finished fifth. That time is still fourth on the UK women’s 4x400m all-time list, putting it into perspective of the level of that final.
Diamond, who didn’t run on the track at London 2012, did just that at London 2017 when she anchored Zoey Clark, Laviai Nielsen and Doyle to a world silver 4x400m medal.
“That was my opportunity to step on the track in front of a full home crowd. The noise was something else and hard to put into words what that feels like. We had 60,000 people with 95% screaming for you. The sound echoes and bounces off the track.
“I was running the last leg of that relay and I took the baton in second behind the American team. Poland was right behind us and normally if they’re close you can hear the breathing of the other person but I couldn’t hear anything. As soon as we took the baton I couldn’t even hear myself breathing!
“I remember as I was coming round the top bend and I thought ‘gosh, she [Iga Baumgart-Witan] must be about to overtake me’ because the crowd erupted. That wasn’t the case though and they were that excited because I was still in second place with 100m to go. My family was in the crowd and when I saw them that was so special.”
Diamond pays tribute to her family in our interview and has a special mention for her grandparents, who actually met at English Schools when they were both Surrey club captains.
Her grandad was a sprinter and Nan competed for Great Britain in the long jump at the European Games in 1950. Diamond’s mum also followed in those footsteps and was a long jumper.
“They loved watching me,” Diamond adds. “My Nan was the kind of person who would buy the programme every time she went to a UK Athletics Championships or English Schools.
“It was nice that they could watch their granddaughter on tracks that they also competed at when they were athletes. They didn’t come all the way out to Rio but lived near Heathrow and had a coming home party for me.”
“I’m so pleased they were able to enjoy my career for many years before they passed away.”
Diamond aims to stay in the sport to some degree and has recently taken up a position coaching athletics at Millfield School in Somerset.
She is not ruling out a career in broadcasting in the future as well but wants to take some time analysing options.
What’s her message now to the next generation of athletes coming through?
“I think the key thing is knowing that it’s going to be a rollercoaster,” she says. “You will have set-backs, get injured and have people telling you that you’re not good enough. You will lose races and run times that aren’t reflective of your ability. Just keep believing in yourself. One bad race doesn’t make you a poor athlete.
“I had people tell me that I wasn’t good enough to win an Olympic medal and I was able to prove that they were wrong.”
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