A Mathematician Just Won an Olympic Gold Medal in Cycling

Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer was considered to be a dark horse in the race.

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A surprise winner emerged during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic women’s road race on July 25, 2021. Anna Kiesenhofer, a 30-year-old Austrian cyclist and mathematician, was considered a novice compared with her competitors, but she emerged victorious, beating the others by 75 seconds.

Kiesenhofer, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics and applied mathematics, respectively, had not been part of a professional cycling team since 2017.

She planned her own training, nutrition, and race strategy, saying her background as a mathematician helped. She also trained alone, and had no teammates.

Her competitors appeared to have been caught off guard by her getting ahead. Because she was such a dark horse, most of the seasoned cyclists seemed to let her get ahead in the beginning of the race, hoping to chase her down later. But she managed to maintain her spot at the front of the group. Through the 85-mile terrain, she persisted alongside world champions and cycling superstars until some didn’t even realize that she was ahead of them alone on the road. Some, who thought they had won, were confused to see she had beaten them to the finish line.

Kiesenhofer currently teaches and does postdoctoral research at a polytechnic institute in Lausanne, Switzerland. She came to the Olympics with no medal expectations.

Upon her victory, she said, “It was unrealistic, because nobody would have believed it. It was just incredible. I couldn’t believe it — even crossing the line I couldn’t believe it.”