Olympic high jump champ Hellebaut calls it a day

BRUSSELS: Belgium was left lamenting the loss of yet another top athlete on Friday after reigning Olympic high jump champion Tia Hellebaut announced her retirement from the sport.

Hellebaut, Belgium’s only gold medal winner in Beijing, said she and her partner Wim Vandeven, who is also her coach, came to the decision because they are expecting a baby. The 30-year-old is three months pregnant.

The Belgian media believed Hellebaut would be outlining her plans for the 2009 athletics season at a hastily-arranged press conference held at the King Baudouin stadium.

But she stunned them all by announcing: “I’m retiring.”

She added: “Wim and I have felt that after the Olympic Games and whatever I do in 2009 we would never be able to match what we achieved in 2008.

“I feel it’s best to bow out at the top.”

The Antwerp-born athlete’s shock decision comes at the end of what has been her best season in the discipline.

A former heptathlete who turned exclusively to the high jump because of a shoulder injury, Hellebaut claimed the world pentathlon indoor title in Valencia earlier this year before going on to win Olympic gold in Beijing.

In 2006 she won the European high jump title in Gothenburg.

Top Belgian sprinter Kim Gevaert, one of the country’s most popular athletes over the past six years, retired from the sport in September - a month after helping Belgium to Olympic silver in the women’s 4x100m relay. — AFP

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