Christian Sprenger, Olympic silver medalist breaststroker, retires

Christian Sprenger
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Australian Christian Sprenger, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 World champion in the 100m breaststroke, retired, citing a 2014 shoulder injury and inability to compete at an elite level.

“I tried to get it back, but the power just wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to go to the Olympics to swim a heat,” Sprenger said, according to the Australian.

Sprenger, 30, also broke the 200m breaststroke world record in the 2009 World Championships semifinals (he would win bronze), keeping it until Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta broke it in the 2012 Olympic final.

In London, Sprenger was beaten by South African Cameron van der Burgh by .47 for gold in the 100m breast, the Australian’s only career Olympic individual final.

Van der Burgh, however, broke a rule by doing multiple underwater dolphin kicks at the start of the race en route to a world record.

‘‘If you’re not doing it, you’re falling behind,” van der Burgh said in 2012, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s not obviously — shall we say — the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.

‘‘I think every single swimmer does that. At the point in time before the ’fly kick was legal [when swimmers weren’t allowed any dolphin kicks at all], [Japan’s four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke] Kitajama was doing it, and obviously the Americans were complaining.”

Sprenger, who relegated van der Burgh to silver at the 2013 Worlds, held no ill-will toward the South African, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I know why he did it,” Sprenger said, according to the newspaper. “I understand at that point in time and even now probably, people are doing it all around the world. And they’re doing it because they think they can get away with it.

“I understand he was trying to even the playing field. I get that. But I believe that he would have been good enough to win an Olympic gold medal without that. I don’t think that’s what people need to focus on. I think if you take that out of the equation, I think he would have won at the end of the day.

“I know him well. He’s a friend of mine. And that’s why at the Olympics I didn’t kick up a stink. I could have done all sorts of things, taken it anywhere I wanted to take it.”

Sprenger was eliminated in the first-round heats of the 50m and 100m breast at the World Championships last August.

“The injury I sustained in 2014 really took a bigger toll on me than I thought it would,” Sprenger said, according to the Australia Olympic Committee. “After returning in 2015, after almost four months out of the water, I worked hard to get back what I had lost, but although I may have thought I wanted it, it wasn’t enough.

“Towards the end of 2015, my breaststroke just didn’t feel how it used to, and I became more and more frustrated.

“The Olympic gold is the only thing missing from my collection, but in this sport, if the mind and body are not perfectly in sync and focused beyond capacity, the performance will not come.

“Ultimately for me, I am not there anymore, and although I may be good enough to make the Olympic team, I can’t just be a number on a team, that is not who I am.”

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