Cook bows out with a flourish

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The Independent Online

Not many champions can walk away from their sport at their peak, but the world's undisputed greatest female modern pentathlete Stephanie Cook has done just that as she turns her focus on her medical career.

The 29-year-old doctor will spend most of today on a plane to India where she is supplying aid to survivors of the Gujarat earthquake tragedy.

It could hardly offer a bigger contrast from a glorious 10 months in which she won gold at the Sydney Olympics, the European Championships in Bulgaria and this weekend's World Championships in Somerset.

Cook, who took two years off from her medical career with the initial ambition of just qualifying for the Olympics, will be back to take up her new job as a senior house officer at a west country hospital on 1 August.

Somewhere in between the leading athlete must find time to go shopping. "I will have to go out and buy some smart clothes," she said. "I can't hit the wards in a tracksuit."

Cook enjoyed a golden finale to her career on Saturday night. She was so far ahead in the decisive 3,000-metre run at Millfield School that she collected a Union flag from a fan and held it aloft, turning the final 1,000 metres into a lap of honour.

She also partnered Kate Allenby, the bronze medallist behind her at the Olympics, and Sian Lewis to the team victory after helping Allenby and Georgina Harland to the team relay title earlier in the week.

Cook has become the best in the world at the diverse pentathlon events of shooting, fencing, swimming, show-jumping and running. And she bowed out content that she is leaving her sport in good hands.

"This lot can manage without me," she said of the rest of the British squad, which included the world No 2 Harland, who took part in Saturday's competition only as an individual. "To have won the team relay and team event and to come away with the individual gold was the icing on the cake and I know I'm leaving with these great guys to carry it on."

Although Cook insists she will never compete in another individual pentathlon, the world champion left the door ajar for a return in the 2004 Games in Athens if the International Olympic Committee decide to introduce a team relay event.

She said: "I always say never say never."