Hayley Wickenheiser, the quadruple Olympic ice hockey champion, has retired ©Getty Images

Hayley Wickenheiser, the quadruple Olympic champion and seven time International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships gold medallist, has announced her retirement from the sport.

Wickenheiser, whom many regard as the finest ever women’s ice hockey player, told insidethegames in February last year about her plans to contest a fifth consecutive gold medal at Pyeongchang 2018 which would make her the most successful female ever in Olympic team sports.

However, the 37-year-old has now officially called time on her spectacular career.

Wickenheiser was part of the Canadian national team who were victorious at the Salt Lake City 2002, Torino 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at which she was the country's flag bearer during the Opening Ceremony.

She also won a silver in the inaugural women’s ice hockey tournament at the Nagano Games of 1998.

Wickenheiser claimed the Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards at the 2002 and 2006 Games and has more goals and assists than any other woman in Olympic competition.

The former Canada captain finishes her career as the country’s all-time leading scorer with 168 goals and 211 assists over 276 games played in a career that began when she was 15 years old.

She also captained Canada for seven years starting in 2007, replacing Cassie Campbell.

"It’s very emotional, because it’s something you’ve loved your whole life," Wickenheiser told Canadian television network Sportsnet.

"But this is where I am.

"What I’d want people to think about is that I truly love the game.

"I loved to play for Canada and represent the country, and I hope that my impact makes it easier for little girls now to play the game."

As well as extraordinary Olympic success, Wickenheiser was also part of the Canadian team who won the IIHF World Championships on seven occasions, four of which were in her homeland.

Most famously, Wickenheiser played in the second and third division men’s league in Finland for two years, becoming the first woman to score a goal for Kirkkonummi Salamat in 2003.

She contributed two goals and 10 assists in 23 games during her time in Finland.

Wickenheiser, who also represented Canada in softball at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, was elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission in 2014.

Her annual girls’ hockey festival, Wickfest, now attracts nearly 3,000 players from countries all over the world and will continue to be held annually in Calgary.

She graduated from the University of Calgary in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements, and has been wanting to use this to pursue a medical degree.