Old habits may die hard, but Spirig, 40, knows the time is right for a change.
She has three children aged nine, five and three and is looking forward to more family time and a break from her busy training schedule.
Her new routine, she says, will likely involve an hour of exercise each morning, rather than the three daily swim, bike and run sessions she’s become accustomed to.
“Being a professional athlete also means that I have to train every day,” says Spirig. “There are no weekends, there are no holidays, I am always training…always ready to go hard.”
If we are to believe the start of her last season, Spirig, double Olympic medalist and six-time European champion, will not end her professional triathlon career quietly.
Earlier this year, a serious cycling accident threatened to derail her season as she suffered three broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and a punctured lung.
This happened months before Spirig took part in Project Phoenix Sub8, a team-supported challenge in which two women – Spirig and British triathlete Katrina Matthews – attempted to complete a full distance triathlon – 2.4 swim miles, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run – in less than eight hours for the first time.
Remarkably, despite injuries sustained in the cycling accident, Spirig completed the challenge in seven hours, 34 minutes and 19 seconds on June 5 at Germany’s Lausitzring circuit, three minutes behind Matthews.
“The accident happened in February… I wasn’t allowed to breathe hard, which meant I couldn’t train properly,” Spirig said.
“I was about 12 weeks short of the training I should have done, but the last few weeks before the Sub8 project went really well and I could see how fitness came in, I could see how I was getting stronger and faster. And I would say I made 100% the best of the situation.”
Unlike a usual triathlon, Spirig was accompanied by a team of 10 pacemakers for the Sub8 project to create the conditions for a fast time, especially on the bike.
The Swiss star started the sport aged 10 and has competed in more Olympics – five – than any other triathlete, winning gold at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016. It was at a when triathlon was relatively new. sport on the Olympic program having made its debut in 2000.
“I was a pretty good junior and was beating some of the Swiss athletes who were going to the Sydney Olympics (in 2000), so I thought it would probably be possible to go to the Olympics next time,” says Spirig.
“That’s when my personal Olympic dream really started. But to go there five times and become an Olympic champion and win another medal has never been in my head like this.
“I thought I would quit a lot sooner. I was educated, I’m a lawyer, so I thought I would have a more or less normal life as a lawyer after the second Olympics.”
But even now Spirig is at the end of his career having competed in over 120 world triathlon events, his love for the sport still burns as bright as it ever has.
“The most important thing is the passion for it – I still love it,” she says.
“On the one hand, I like training, moving, being active; it just makes me feel good. And on the other hand, I like challenges and races and seeing where my limits are and up to where I can go, how fast I can go.”
Beyond the medals and podiums – there have been many – Spirig has learned life lessons from her triathlon career – even drawing on her racing experience while training to become a lawyer.
“I had final exams and everyone was so scared and anxious,” she recalls. “I just said, well, I had pressure before. I know how to handle the pressure because I have it all the time in the races and I know how to work for a goal – how to be efficient, how to plan .
“These weren’t training sessions, they were study sessions. For me, it was so easy because I had learned all of this in sports and I could just apply it to my studies. .”
Sport, she says, “helps you deal with real life issues.” But there have also been times when life has helped Spirig manage his approach to the sport.
This includes how her attitude towards training changed after having children – a time when recoveries became non-existent and sometimes reverted to playing with Lego, she jokes.
“After a bad session, for example, before I had kids, I thought about it for days and wondered why it was a bad session and what I could have done differently,” says Spirig.
“And now there’s no time. I see there are so many more important things in life that it’s not worth being upset about just one bad workout.”
Spirig, whose husband Reto Hug is a former Swiss triathlete, says she would have been ready to retire from the sport after the birth of her first child in 2013 and her gold medal at the 2012 Olympics – a race which was decided by a dramatic photo finish.
After a sprint to the line between Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden, the two athletes achieved the same finish time. Spirig, however, was later judged to have finished less than 15 centimeters ahead of Norden as she won her first Olympic medal.
“The years that followed were always like another little gift that I could enjoy but didn’t expect,” says Spirig. “I think that’s why I was able to enjoy it and do it for so long – because I always saw it as a plus and a little gift…I just enjoyed it.”
She doesn’t know exactly what her life will look like beyond this season. Along with spending more time with her family, Spirig wants to visit schools to inspire kids to play sports and is also busy lining up sponsorship commitments.
And although training will continue at a reduced capacity, later this year she will consider lining up for her last race as a professional triathlete.
“I think I’m going to miss the races because of the emotions,” Spirig says. “Running means you have really intense emotions. Whether it’s joy, pleasure or disappointment, it’s all intense.”
At this point, however, there is no lingering doubt about her decision to retire, nor any regret about what she would have liked to accomplish.
“There’s nothing I would have done completely different,” Spirig says. “I just feel it’s time. It’s time for a change, it’s the right decision for the family and I’m happy about it.”
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