Twenty-six-year-old Melissa Hoskins announced her retirement on Wednesday. The Australian last raced the team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and opted for a retirement “test run” before finalising her decision. Her dreams of calling curtain on her career following Olympic gold where dashed by a disastrous crash that put her in the hospital four days out from the team pursuit qualifiers.
“Rio obviously didn’t finish the way that I wanted it to finish for me or for the team,” Hoskins told Cyclingnews. “I didn’t want to make a rush decision in the heat of the moment, especially given the circumstances. Spending time in a normal environment, which was what it would be like if I actually retired and seeing if I enjoyed normal life was really important to me.”
Hoskins' "normal life" is still far from normal. She's recently engaged to Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing). The pair, who will wed in February 2018, split their time between Girona, Spain, La Massana, Andorra and Adelaide, Australia.
"I had the sense that it was time for a new chapter," said Hoskins. "Cycling can be an extremely selfish sport, and when you have two people – me and Rohan – in the same household trying to be the best of the best… We've done really well over the past five years, but I think now where he is with his career and where I was with mine, another four years until the next Olympic cycle would have been really hard."
Hoskins has had two shots at the Olympics. She was part of Australia's ride-off for bronze at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The three-rider squad was beat by the Americans and finished just outside the medals. Four years later, Australia's four-rider team headed to Rio expecting to challenge Great Britain for gold.
In the end, they were lucky to race. Hoskins was stretchered off the track with a suspected broken pelvis and remained on crutches until the eve of the qualifying rounds. She rode both the first two rounds but sat out the final where the team managed fifth place.
"I had two rolls of the dice with the Olympics," said Hoskins. "Obviously neither time did I come out with the result we wanted or in some regards expected. It was hard to deal with at the time.
"Over the past few months, I've gained a new understanding about how to define my career," she added. "A career shouldn't be defined by medals won or results collected. I choose to define my career by what I achieved as a person, where I've been, the people I met and the standard by which I've done my job. I've hit every target that I've wanted to hit in that regard on the bike and off, and as a person, I think I'm better for that."
Between track commitments, Hoskins raced on the road. She spent four seasons with Orica-AIS and was part of Australia's first UCI women's team's maiden season. Her biggest wins came at the 2012 Tour of Chongming Island where she won two stages and the overall.
"I considered racing on the road rather than retiring," said Hoskins. "I started thinking about it two years before Rio. I was riding really well on the road with Emma [Johansson] and Orica. I was loving team time trialling. At that time, if you had asked me, I would have said that I was going to spend a couple years after Rio just doing road.
"As Rio got closer, the stress got higher," Hoskins said. "The demands mentally and physically are so high, and my motivation for my next challenge to include competitive sport in any format began to wane."
Hoskins also dealt with repeated health issues. An anaphylaxis allergic reaction to an unknown substance a year out from the Olympics sent her to the hospital in Germany. She was diagnosed with pneumonia at the New Zealand Track World Cup in February 2016 and was forced to sit out the 2016 Track World Championships six weeks later.
"I felt like my body was trying to tell me something," said Hoskins. "My body was saying: 'Maybe enough is enough.' After Rio, especially after that crash, I started to think about all the pain and damage I had done to my body. I have one vehicle in life, and I don't want to burn it out at 26.
"Deep down, I knew at Rio I was done, but it's easy to stop riding, stop racing, not make announcement, but as soon as you put a title to it, tell people or put it out in a media release, it becomes so much more real. I was ready to stop racing, but I wasn't ready to think about what that would mean."
For Hoskins, retirement has meant a focus on family, food and following her passions. She got a certificate four in fitness during the Australian summer, took a massage course and a barista course, and obtained a motorbike license.
"I dove into not being an athlete and ticked a lot of boxes that I wanted to tick that my previous commitments to track and road never would have allowed," said Hoskins. "I spent a lot of time with family, ate a lot of good food. There was a lot of wine consumed.
"Now that I'm back in Europe, it's about finding out what I can do over here to keep me busy while also being here for Rohan," she said. "That's a big thing for me, for us. When you have no family in Europe, it's really hard. Trying to be the best in the world without someone at home is a challenge. That's really my number one focus at the moment – being there for him."
She imagines a future that includes cycling as a central part of her life – as long as she's not the one pushing the pedals.
"I enjoy sport, and I enjoy the idea of teaching people to be active in a healthy way," said Hoskins. "I got my motorbike license so I could help with motor-pacing in Australia or in Europe. I did a massage course because I like swanny work. I could imagine being a swanny with a women's team here in Europe.
"I have so much knowledge, and I don't want to step away completely," she said. "I want to give back from the sidelines. I'd love to help people achieve their dreams."
Hoskins got choked up twice during a 20-minute conversation about her retirement. Both times that's when she spoke about the people that helped her achieve her dreams. She called the defining result of her career, a team pursuit world title set in record-breaking time, a tribute to Gary "Sutto" Sutton, head of Australia's women's track endurance program.
She doesn't miss training. She doesn't miss competition. She doesn't miss the pressure. She misses the people and the sense of community.
"That's the hardest part for me now that I'm not in the sport," said Hoskins. "Your relationships shift because you don't have the daily contact in the same way anymore. It's like not seeing your family every day – except with my family, I can jump on a plane and go home and fit in again without missing a beat. I'll never fit back in at the track or on a road team again – and even if I stay in touch with the people that matter to me, it's different now."