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The final whistle blows on former Australian Diamond Natalie Medhurst’s 17-year netball career


Growing up in a small country community, Natalie Medhurst is the first to admit her rise to elite level sport came as a surprise.

Last week, the former Diamond, Commonwealth Games gold medallist and multi-time World Cup player announced her retirement from a professional netball career spanning 17 years.

The third-most-capped national league player took to the court 235 times and scored 4,415 goals across Commonwealth Bank Trophy, ANZ Championship and Suncorp Super Netball competitions.

Medhurst, who was born in Melbourne, returned home to finish her career with the Collingwood Magpies in her native Victoria.

Grateful for family support

When the 178 centimetres goal shooter was just three, her family packed up and moved to the small south-east South Australian township of Millicent, where she became involved in local country sport.

A team photo with eight girls in netball uniforms
Natalie Medhurst, left, back row, began her netball career with the Millicent Saints in South Australia.(Supplied: Millicent Football and Netball Club)

“My parents ran the Somerset Hotel in Millicent so we also lived there (at the hotel). It was awesome, we loved it as kids, it was different home compared to most and my parents were incredibly busy,” Medhurst said.

She said the family’s commitment to supporting her in local sports such as Little Athletics and basketball eventually turned to taking return road trips to Adelaide for state team trials in netball.

“Dad was heavily involved in the footy club, and footy and netball go hand in hand so that’s really where everything started and it took off from there,” she said.

Career exceeded dreams

Medhurst began her professional career in 2004 with the Adelaide Thunderbirds, before heading to the Queensland Firebirds in 2010, followed by stints with West Coast Fever and the Collingwood Magpies.

The Thunderbirds club champion and two-time winner of the Tanya Denver medal and the Adelaide Advertiser player of the year (2006 and 2007) came as highlights in the early days, but it was in 2007 when she first wore the green and gold as Diamond #144.

Medhurst represented Australia with the Diamonds on 86 occasions and went on to win three Netball World Cup gold medals, one Commonwealth Games gold medal, one Commonwealth Games silver medal and six Constellation Cup titles.

Throughout her Diamonds career, she scored 1,166 goals for Australia and captained the Diamonds on one occasion.

Cool under pressure

Reflecting on her rise in the sport and time at the top, she said her competitive streak married well with a naturally laid-back style on court.

“I was very chilled out on court, I think some people confused that and thought I was lazy … but I’ve always loved the pressure — that’s probably why I’m a shooter.”

“Competing was the best thing; game day and those big games … are something I’m really going to miss.”

A woman in an Australian netballer uniform holding a netball. Another player defends
Natalie Medhurst scored 1,166 goals for Australia and captained the Diamonds on one occasion.(AAP)

She said she was most proud of seeing how far the sport had come, with a clearer pathway for young athletes looking to make it to the top.

” … But a thing that helped me a lot was that I played a lot of sports — I wasn’t fixated on netball at a young age.”

And for the next generation of country kids throwing the ball around an asphalt court, Medhurst has this to say: “Realise it is incredibly hard work; it takes a lot of dedication — and from parents too. So for the kids, make sure you thank your parents.”

Young players follow footsteps

Donna Denton, who is a grade coach with the Millicent Saints, said Medhurst had inspired a new generation of young players.

Lisa Alexander celebrates with Natalie Medhurst
Natalie Medhurst, seen here with then coach Lisa Alexander, left, says she will miss competing.(AAP: Paul Miller)

She said the township of Millicent still claimed Medhurst as one of their own.

“Obviously there’s a keen interest in our town following her,” Denton said.

Netball Australia chief executive Marne Fechner thanked Medhurst for her service to the sport.

“Nat has made an enormous contribution to Netball in Australia, both on and off the court, and we congratulate her on an incredible career,” she said.



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Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei smashes 5,000 metres world record at Monaco Diamond League


Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei produced a brilliant display of solo running to break Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year-old 5,000 metres world record by almost 2 seconds as athletics returned with a bang in Monaco.

Cheptegei, 23, had predicted a world record run at the Diamond League meeting and delivered as he clocked a time of 12 minutes, 35.36 seconds, destroying the 12:37.35 mark that Ethiopian Bekele set in the Netherlands in 2004.

The Monaco leg of the Diamond League was the biggest international athletics meet so far in an outdoor season all but wrecked by the pandemic.

Up to 5,000 socially distanced fans were allowed into the 16,000-capacity Stade Louis II stadium by the Mediterranean Sea for the meeting.

Leading the way was Cheptegei, the 2019 world champion over 10,000 metres, who was in hot form before lockdown, setting world records over 10km and 5km on the road — the shorter of those also coming in Monaco in February, his last race before Friday’s meet.

Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei stick his tongue out as he crosses the finishes line in the men's 5,000 metres final
Joshua Cheptegei broke the world record in front of up to 5,000 fans.(AP: Daniel Cole)

He took up the running at halfway, churning out 61-second laps and delivered a 2:30 split for the final kilometre, remembering to stop his own watch as he crossed the line.

“It took a lot of mind-setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home, but you have to stay motivated,” he said.

In the women’s 5,000, world champion Hellen Obiri surged clear of Letesenbet Gidey to win in 14:18.37 after Sifan Hassan dropped out with three laps to go.

Joshua Cheptegei with a flag wrapped around him squats on the running track next to the timing board showing his race time
Joshua Cheptegei set a new world record 5,000 metres time of 12:35.36.(AP: Valery Hache)

Other highlights included American 200-metre world champion Noah Lyles running the world’s best time this year to win in 19.76 and 400-metre hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm equalling the eighth-best time in history.

The track meet known as Herculis is renowned for fast times, especially in middle-distance running, and produced a world record for the third straight year.

Yet that seemed less likely in an Olympic season when all athletes’ plans and preparations were upended by the coronavirus and the resulting postponement of the Tokyo Games.

Wires



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