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Anna Kiesenhofer is a mathematician, a PhD, a cyclist, and an Olympian. Had someone asked Kiesenhofer to describe herself on the start line of the Olympic road race in Tokyo last summer, she likely would have answered in that order. Four hours later, all that was about to change.
Kiesenhofer had been a professional cyclist with Lotto-Soudal in the past, but had walked away from the pro ranks to focus on her biggest passion in life: mathematics. Unsurprisingly though, an Olympic gold medal has a way of slingshotting you into the limelight and right back into the life of a full-time athlete Kiesenhofer had left behind.
Although mathematics are on hold now – while Kiesenhofer concentrates on being a reigning Olympic champion – it was mathematics that was her primary passion in her ‘pre-Tokyo’ life. There can’t be many Olympic champions for whom their chosen sport is a secondary passion in their golden year, but that was the case for Kiesenhofer. Fewer still who self-coached their way to the top step of the podium, researching all manner of training interventions along the way.
But then, being different is nothing new for the three-time Austrian time trial champion, whose life motto is “dare to be different”.
“Dare to be different” is my slogan. It was my motto around Tokyo. Different in not following the beaten track, not being ashamed to be oneself. Acknowledging one’s unique needs, fears, and strengths. Not to be intimidated by authority and question traditions.Anna Kiesenhofer
Kiesenhofer certainly didn’t follow the beaten track on her way to Olympic gold, starting in triathlon, moving into road racing, walking away to further her studies and academic career, only to find herself on the start line of the Olympic road race, invisible to many, but secretly ready to shock the world.
Her incredible solo victory was Austria’s first summer Olympic medal since 2004 and her country’s first cycling gold since 1896. Kiesenhofer has since followed that up with a top-20 at the time trial world championships, two national championship silver medals, and a fifth place in the European time trial championships just last week.
Now, as she now reignites her career once again as a professional cyclist, she might just find a sport very different to the one she left behind five years ago. A sport full of mathematical modelling, performance optimization, and coefficients of this, that and the other, where the mathematical-minded athlete she is is now much more of a commodity than the oddity it once was.
Of course, an Olympic champion needs bikes fit for that title. Kiesenhofer gave CyclingTips an exclusive look at her new Factor bikes that were custom-painted in celebration of her gold medal-winning ride in Toyko just over a year ago.