ScienceMath researcher and amateur cyclist wins heroic gold at...

Math researcher and amateur cyclist wins heroic gold at Tokyo Olympics

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Kiesenhofer doesn’t even have a coach or professional cycling contract. She organizes her how diet and creates her training plans. She entered in the road race without the benefit of an Austrian teammate to help her out. But none of that mattered. She held her arms in triumph as she finished before a crowd of fans, fighting back her tears. 

Anna Kiesenhofer. Image credit: Tokyo’s Olympic Games

Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten threw her arms up in the air after the Tokyo Olympic women’s road race last Sunday. That’s what you usually do when you think you’ve won the Olympic gold — except she hadn’t. The medal went to Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, who took advantage of her rival’s confusion and secured a shock win.

“When I crossed the line, I thought I had won,” said silver medalist Van Vleuten, speaking to reporters after the race. She gave an impressive performance, breaking away from the leading group more than 40 kilometers from the end. It was a demanding 147-kilometer course and she was on track for getting a medal for Austria.

But she wasn’t alone. Kiesenhofer spent much of the rest of the race so far ahead of the chasing pack that she was out of sight of the other cyclists. Lack of communication was also a factor. Radios aren’t allowed in the Olympics to update riders on their competitors, so Annemiek and others felt no urgency to sprint at the final stretch.

“I’m gutted about that, of course,” said Van Vleuten. Still, she was pleased with her medal after suffering a crash during the road race at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. “I’m really proud of the medal, because I did not have an Olympic medal. It’s also a silver medal with a shine on it, because I felt super good today,” said Van Vleuten. 

Kiesenhofer, who doesn’t have a professional contract, only took up cycling in 2014, turning professional three years later. According to the Olympics website, the Austrian said her ambition was “to compete at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.” She ended up winning Austria’s first cycling medal since the first summer Olympics in 1986. 

Focusing on academia

In fact, her CV features more academic accomplishments than cycling ones. She has a degree from the Technical University of Vienna, studied at Cambridge, and has a doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. Now, she spends most of her time teaching at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, rather than just training. 

But there’s nothing quite like an Olympic medal. This was her Olympic debut, and the 30-year-old couldn’t be happier.

“My legs were completely empty. I have never emptied myself so much in my whole life. I could hardly pedal any more. It felt like there was zero energy in my legs,” said Kiesenhofer, speaking with reporters. “I couldn’t believe it. Even when I crossed the line, it was like, ‘Is it done now? Do I have to continue riding?’ Incredible,” she added.

The unexpected situation will give the cycling world something to think about before the individual time-trials this week. For now, it’s time for celebration for Kiesenhfoer and Austria as a whole. It has the country’s first gold medal since the 2004 Summer Olympics. “I have sacrificed so much for today, it’s such a reward,” said Kiesenhofer.



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