Golden Leamington legend Bob retires

Paralympic legend Bob Matthews has decided to retire from international athletics after a remarkable 25-year career.

The 47-year-old blind runner had hoped to go out in style with an appearance at the Beijing Games in September and flew back to Leamington from his new home in New Zealand to chase a qualifying time for the 1,500m.

He ran 4min 27sec - taking 10sec off the New Zealand record - but still fell a little short.

"I trained hard to make that one final Paralympic Games," he said.

"I can safely say I've never trained so hard to run so slow, but I'm pleased with what I achieved during my stay in Leamington, including winning the Warwickshire Masters Championships."

"Of course I'm disappointed not to be able to bow out in Beijing, but on reflection, and really for the first time, I can look back at everything I have achieved and smile."

"Seven Paralympic Games and eight Paralympic gold medals is enough."

Matthews also holds 22 world records, a catalogue that puts him among the all-time greats of disabled sport.

"I'm not planning to stop running though - maybe a triathlon and marathons to improve my personal best of 2hr 47min 18sec," he said.

Matthews, who was widowed in 2003, met and married interior designer Sarah Kerr when holidaying in New Zealand.

He decided to settle there and is now a father and has set up a motivational speaking business.

"Things have been fairly busy down here. My son Thomas is growing and developing fast - he's now nine months old and has just started crawling."

"I think I'll have to rig him up with bells to keep an eye on him," he said."

Matthews' amazing run of Paralympic success stretches back to the 1984 Games in Long Island, New York, where he won gold at 800m, 1,500m and 5,000m.

He repeated that hat-trick in Seoul four years later and won a third 5,000m gold at Barcelona in 1992. Atlanta yielded a 1,500m silver and in Sydney in 2000 he took the 10,000m gold and silver medals in the marathon and 5,000m.

Last time in Athens Matthews was fifth in the 10,000m final and sixth over 5,000m.

His remarkable medal collection also includes six world championship golds and 15 at European level.

Bob Matthews' proudest moments - in his own words

Setting the 47th world record at the Bislett Games, Oslo, in 1984.

Being named as one of the 12 Men of the Year in 1984.

One of my greatest performances was in July 1986. It was at Brighton and the conditions were perfect: it had rained during the night so the air was really clean smelling, it was mild and there was no wind.

I ran 1:59.90, the first and only sub-two minute 800m by a blind athlete (the world record still stands).

My world record of 2:02.43 had stood since the Paralympic Games final in 1984 - neither my guide nor I expected to take more than two seconds off in one race!

My only regret is that I didn't do another 800m around that time as I was in the form to run at least two seconds faster.

Winning the 5,000m gold in Barcelona after losing the 1,500m was incredibly sweet. From time to time I still think about kicking hard and hitting the front, running 62 seconds for the last lap - it was so exhilarating.

The women's 800m final was in progress as my guide Steve and I waited for our last race, the 800m. There were 80,000 Spaniards watching their countrywoman winning and it was possible to hear her progress around the track by the increasing and decreasing volume of the crowd.

Steve had to shout during our race for me to hear what was happening as we won the silver in front of Prince Edward.

The most outstanding memory of all though was as we left the stadium, standing at the top of the hill looking down at the 'Dancing Fountains' Barcelona by Freddie Mercury played and the fountains started dancing! As a big Queen fan and less than one year since Freddie's death, the experience was incredibly poignant and moving. The beer and pasta we enjoyed seemed to taste like nectar.

The two best Paralympic Games I've been to by a street were Barcelona and Sydney. The Americans seemed to view the Olympic and Paralympic Games as purely a commercial venture. They'd obviously decided the Paralympics weren't going to be very lucrative so Centenary Park was little more than a building site after everything had been packed away. The athletes' recreational swimming pool had been filled in and there was generally an air of uninterest.

The disappointment over the Atlanta Paralympic Games falling way short of Barcelona, combined with feeling I'd underperformed in my races made me determined to compete in one more Games.

I took silver in the 1,500m and was disqualified in the 5,000m - my guide crossed the finish line a split second before me, costing a silver medal.

In Sydney it'd been eight years since I last struck gold. I learned a great deal about myself in the 10,000m, which was the first track race. I had thought I was dying in fourth place with five laps to go, but with determination and great communication from Paul, my guide, I closed the gap and won gold with a sprint up the home straight It was such an amazing, incredible feeling!

Receiving the MBE from the Queen in 1987 - the first Paralympian to receive this honour.

Receiving an honorary MA from Warwick University in 2001 and from Worcester University in 2006.

Holding my baby son Thomas for the first time and seeing him develop.

Qualifying for 2004 Paralympic Games was very difficult, with all the emotions of losing Kath, my first wife, the year before. So just to step on to the running track in Athens was a very proud and emotional moment.

Meeting my second wife, New Zealand interior designer Sarah Kerr, and her agreeing to my proposal in Greece in 2006. It was love at first touch!

Being inducted into the BBC Midlands Hall of Fame in 2004.

The writer of a TV film, Blind Ambition, told me how he'd seen me winning gold in the Seoul 1988 Paralympics and this had inspired him to write the story. The star of the film was Robson Green who came to Leamington with his "guide runner" to see how guiding and being guided should be done. I also played a role in the film.

Becoming a Queen fan in 1975 and getting along to four of their concerts before the great man died in 1991.

The success I have had was achieved with no less than one hour's commute to a full-time job!

Regrets? Even the best athletes have a few

I would love to have broken four minutes for the 1,500m when I was really fit and running well.

After receiving the MBE in 1987 and going onto compete for GB for 21 years including winning a further five gold medals, I regret not having been promoted to the level of OBE at least as most other successful athletes are. I guess it's not too late - I could still be nominated!

Despite everything that led up to Athens, coping with the sudden death of my first wife, Kath, I regret not having run to my full potential - especially in the 10,000m, when I came fifth.

In 1985, two years after my first international, I learned the hard way when continuing to run with a painful shin. It was what most runners do, trying to ignore the discomfort.

Had I seen a good physio it might not have become a stress fracture and I might have got to Rome for the first and only time where the European Championships were held. I learned from this to seek professional advice rather than bury my head in the sand.

I would love to have found a good sports masseur earlier in my career. In 2002 I trained as a sports massage therapist. Over the next year I had regular deep tissue massage from my class mates and for the first time in nine years I didn't need to stop running due to a recurring injury - didn't even have a niggle!