Anna Kiesenhofer is a mathematical genius who has just achieved one of the greatest shocks in the history of the Olympic Games

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CNN

No one was talking about Anna Kiesenhofer before the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Road Race, but they sure are now.

The Austrian rider was considered a novice compared to her competitors, including defending champion Anna van der Breggen, former Olympic bronze medalist Elisa Longo Borghini, Briton Lizzie Deignan, German Lisa Brennauer and former champion. of the world Annemiek van Vleuten.

But Kiesenhofer, who only turned pro in 2017, was not troubled by the world-class roster. Instead, she rode the 147-kilometer course, battling the scorching heat and grueling humidity to secure Austria’s first Olympic cycling gold medal since 1896.

“It was pretty extreme,” Kiesenhofer told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire. “I have never emptied so much in my life, I just killed every muscle firewall in my legs.”

If others had assumed Kiesenhofer was catching up in Sunday’s peloton, the 30-year-old Austrian certainly didn’t.

“There’s always that little hope, that little thought, yes I could win,” she said. “If I’m at the start line, it means I’m ready, I want to win. But also, I know realistically I’m not supposed to win here.

She was part of a breakaway group from the first moment, but it wasn’t until the home stretch that Kiesenhofer emerged like a dark horse, solo for the last 40 kilometers when she started to “aim. gold ”.

Anna Kiesenhofer crossed the finish line to win the women's road cycling race at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
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MICHAEL STEELE / POOL / AFP / Getty Images

Anna Kiesenhofer crossed the finish line to win the women’s road cycling race at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.

In the end, competing without the weight of expectations helped Kiesenhofer keep her cool as she finished the race in under four hours – 75 seconds ahead of silver medalist Van Vleuten.

When the Austrian cyclist realized she had won gold, she raised her arms in the air before staggering towards her team, crying tears of joy in disbelief.

“It was unrealistic, because no one would have believed it,” she says. “It was just amazing. I couldn’t believe it, even crossing the line I couldn’t believe it.

As she set off solo in those final kilometers, Kiesenhofer says she was motivated by the memories of those close to her, who lived every moment of the race with her in Austria, where they watched a livestream of the event.

“My family, I knew they were watching, I visualized them,” she says. “I thought of them, of some former coaches that I had had, of friends who were my motivation.”

Even though her family is not “very passionate about cycling,” Kiesenhofer says that at the end of the day, they just want her to be happy, even if that means fighting to overcome obstacles and become an Olympic champion.

“They don’t know much about cycling, the sport itself […] it’s a great motivation for me during a race, to know that she is watching, even if she [mother] doesn’t really have a clue.

The Austrian cyclist says her family is behind her success.

Ronald Hoogendoorn / BSR Agency / Getty Images

The Austrian cyclist says her family is behind her success.

From an accomplished academic to Olympic gold medalist, Kiesenhofer says she always walked to the beat of her own drum.

She hasn’t been part of a professional cycling team since 2017, a decision she made on her own initiative.

Kiesenhofer acknowledges that she learned from the former coaches, but says that basically, “it just didn’t fit my character. I like to be independent. I like to make my choices like my training plan, my races, etc. I just have this lone fighter approach.

What she may lack in physical support, she certainly makes up for by using her intellectual prowess.

With a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in England and a doctorate in applied mathematics from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, ​​Kiesenhofer meticulously plans his own training, nutrition and running strategy.

“As a mathematician, you’re used to solving problems on your own, so that’s my way of approaching cycling,” she says.

“A lot of cyclists are used to having people doing it for them. […] I mean, they have a trainer, they have a nutritionist, they have the guy who plans the race for them, ”she adds. I just do all of this work myself.

The key to its success? She’s not afraid to embrace the aspects of her character that make her unique.

“I dare to be different. I have a different approach and that means I’m also unpredictable, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday, ”she says. “People didn’t predict, people didn’t think I could win.”

She says she hopes her story can inspire others to “not give up, to persevere. […] do what suits your character.

“You just have to follow your instincts,” she adds.

These instincts will allow him to honor his pledge to lecture academically next semester.

Kiesenhofer (middle) plans to give a talk at her university next semester, where her colleagues and students know her for her achievements on the track.

Michael Steele / Getty Images

Kiesenhofer (middle) plans to give a talk at her university next semester, where her colleagues and students know her for her achievements on the track.

“I heard from my colleagues,” she adds. “I know students always google the teacher’s name. In the past, I had students who followed my cycling and wished me luck when they knew a race was coming.

Despite the new attention of being an Olympic gold medalist, Kiesenhofer insists she wants to maintain a life away from the spotlight.

“I want to continue living the life I lead,” says Kiesenhofer, who looks forward to seeing his family in Austria again.

“It would be so nice to see them. They don’t care what lies around my neck. It’s just me they love, me and not the Olympic gold medalist.

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