Two-time Olympic champion Andrus Veerpalu announced that he will bow out of the world championships set to begin at Holmenkollen near Oslo, Norway, on February 23, and end his 22-year career.
Veerpalu, 40, has been plagued by a chronic knee injury, currently coupled with a bad cold, the Ski Association and team doctor Tarvo Kiudma said.
Although widely expected to retire after the season, the departure of Veerpalu marks an emotional double loss for Estonian Nordic skiing as fellow gold medalist Kristina Shmigun also called it quits last year.
"My training and will are strong, and the whole team and background forces have done much work, but my health and age send a signal that even the most ambitious athlete must heed," said Veerpalu. "I would have dearly liked to cap off a career nicely at the World Championships, but real life is something else."
Veerpalu apologized to fans en route to Holmenkollen and thanked coaches, team members, sponsors, competitors. "Above all my family and the Estonian people whose support has inspired me and led me to the triumphs I have been able to share with you all in my own way."
A relatively late bloomer, Veerpalu's first medal came in 1999 in Ramsau, Austria, where he struck silver in the 50 km classic race.
Two years later, in Lahti, Finland, he won his first world champion title, nipping Norwegian Frode Estil at the finish of the 30 km classical distance..
The Salt Lake City games of 2002 brought Veerpalu gold in the 15 km classical and silver in the 50 km classical.
Four years passed before his next major medal - another gold at the Turin Games in 2006, in what he considered his best event, the 15 km classical.
Three years later at the Liberec world championships, he won in the same distance.