Dame Kelly Holmes choked back the tears yesterday as she revealed the tragedy behind her decision to retire from athletics.
The double Olympic champion had planned on a glorious farewell in Melbourne next March by defending her 1500 metres title at the Commonwealth Games.
Holmes had recovered from the Achilles injury which forced her to miss the world championships and was back training well - but the death of a friend shocked Holmes into reassessing her career.
It made the 35-year-old former army sergeant realise she had nothing more to achieve in athletics and the time was right to retire.
Holmes, her voice wavering with emotion, said: "I met a guy in Ireland called Tim O'Brian, a friend of my physio Gerard Hartmann. We met for lunch and he was full of life.
"I went back to South Africa and heard two days later from Gerard that he only had four weeks to live.
"He died only a few weeks ago of cancer. I was totally shocked, overwhelmed and uncontrollable in terms of my feelings. One minute I was having lunch with the guy, the next minute he had four weeks to live.
"Something clicked in my mind. You never know where your life is going so why not make the most of everything?
"Up until the time I heard about Tim I was still raring to go and was going to the Commonwealth Games. I had told my physio and he couldn't believe I still had the desire to run.
"But what happened to Tim was a life-changing experience which touches you in more ways than you think.
"I have achieved everything I ever wanted. I am a double Olympic champion. I have nothing to prove to anyone, including myself. I have done and surpassed what other people will continue to dream of.
"It has been a really tough career but nothing will ever surpass what I have achieved."
It is ironic that Holmes, who battled a succession of injuries throughout her career, is bowing out when she is fully fit.
Had it not been for the personal tragedy she would have been in prime shape to race at the Commonwealth Games. But that knowledge alone gives her immense satisfaction.
She said: "I knew I had to go out of the sport injury-free. I have been back running, back training in South Africa and I have been enjoying it.
"I was adamant that when I made my decision to retire I would be injury-free. It is easy to give up on an injury - but I have never done that in the past so why would I do it now?"
Holmes reflected on a career of monumental highs - the two Commonwealth titles in 1994 and 2002 and the glorious Olympic double - but also the tough times she endured along the way.
She said: "It hasn't always been enjoyable. I have always had that drive and determination to be the best but I kept getting kicked down.
"That was hard to overcome. The good times have been really good but the bad times have been really bad. I can't say it was the most enjoyable time of my life but it was what I wanted to do.
"There were a lot of times when I thought I would not achieve my dreams of being Olympic champion but the fact I hung in there makes me believe in fate.
"When I was at the Olympics something very weird happened to me.
"I am not a religious person at all but I remember sitting in my room the day before the Games started.
"I had put all my inspirational messages up on the wall, closed the door and sat on the bed and this big gust of air swirled around my neck. At that point I knew I would do something special."
Holmes will turn her attention to a range of projects - from appearing as a contestant on ITV's Dancing on Ice to working as a mentor for young athletes.
She has also been invited to become a senior ambassador for the International Association of Athletics Federations.