It was strange that life just went on. It wasn't just that the racing was over or that I was back home. It was the fact that the Olympics had been a part of my daily life for four years, and suddenly it wasn't. Even though it wasn't the focus every day, "Rio" was the guiding reason for every training session, every race, and every goal. Now that it was over, I felt empty.
Right after Rio, I came home only to head up to Sweden. It was straight back into normal racing and, after the hype and stress of the Olympics, "normal" felt better than ever. I found an anchor with the standard logistics of regular trade team racing and familiar faces of my teammates. Life was moving forward, business as usual, and I appreciated the comforting familiarity more than ever…but I still wasn't over the Olympics.
Most of me had moved on but there was this lingering part that was unsettled. It was the part of me that thought about the podium every day. The part of me that would analyze the course and play out scenarios. The part of me that was fuelled by a great sense of purpose that gave reason to everything. Sport always celebrates the end results, and I've made my peace with outcome of my races. What I'm not over is the abrupt end of a four-year journey that became a central part of my identity.
Who I wanted to be was the reason so many people rallied behind my goals and who that woman was, was a medallist. It was a collective effort between coaches, managers, athletes, family, friends and even supportive fans to get the woman I needed to be ready for the Olympics. Our project was utterly engulfing and by the time I arrived on the start line, I had transformed into that woman. I had put the work in, I had made it to Rio, I believed I could medal.
Most athletes go home from the Olympics as losers. I'm one of them if you're measuring by medals, but there is value elsewhere. A medal is actually such a small part of the process when you think about it. Even when an athlete does medal, the value of their win is often qualified by their journey, the struggles they endured and success they achieved, to become a winner. We often hear it's "the journey, not the destination". That's a platitude that doesn't seem to apply to the medal-driven world of the Olympics and, yet, we often acknowledge it's the origin of value. Why was I so quick to write off four years because of one moment? The woman that came to the Olympics may not be a medallist, but that didn't mean her value had decreased.
It's truly impossible to reduce my Olympic journey down to a number on a results sheet. I may not have gold, silver or bronze around my neck but I am the woman I needed and wanted to be to win a medal. I've grown a lot in four years as an athlete, friend, wife, sister, daughter, teammate, woman, and as a human. I'm thankful to have been shaped by a collective of intelligent coaches, trusting managers, driven athletes, supportive sponsors, loving friends and family, my unwavering husband, and so many other beautiful and wonderful people. I may have walked away empty-handed, but I'm sitting here full-hearted. Cliche or not, the true value of my Olympic experience was in the journey — who I have become — and that's something you can't measure in medals.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is a world-class athlete who races for the Cervelo Bigla Pro Cycling Team. You can read her blogs on Cyclingnews, and also find them on her website, and follow her on Twitter @Ashleighcycling.
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Ashleigh-Moolman-Pasio is a world-class climber and the newest member of CCC-Liv (formerly Waowdeals). She has written a regular blog for Cyclingnews since 2016, touching on topics of gender equality in women’s and men’s professional cycling.
From South Africa, Moolman-Pasio turned professional with Lotto Ladies Team in 2010, spent one season with Hitec Products in 2014 and the last four seasons with Cervelo-Bigla. She made a move to CCC-Liv in 2019 and will race alongside her long-time mentor Marianne Vos.
She’s a versatile rider who was second at Flèche Wallonne, fourth at the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastonge-Liège, and second behind Annemiek van Vleuten at the Giro Rosa in 2018. This year, look for Moolman-Pasio at the front end of the peloton, and on the podium, during the Spring Classics and at the most mountainous stage races on the Women’s WorldTour.