The Olympic Dream that may never come true

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I had a sobering moment yesterday that I may never realise my Olympic Dream. I know I’m not alone on this one.

The Olympic buzz is everywhere around me. Living at the AIS base in Italy I’m surrounded by the heavy hitters not only from Australia but other countries as well, all chasing that dream.

The Olympics is why I have always done sport. I was mesmerised by the Olympics from an early age. I sat in front of the telly transfixed to the screen, watching South African swimming legend Penny Heyns win yet another medal. I decided right then and there at the age of 7 that I would one day parade around the running track with a gold medal around my neck, waving to the crowd, blowing kisses to my parents.

Fast forward to the Sydney Olympics and I was competing in the Pan- Pacific Championships as an 11–year-old 800/1500m runner. We had the privilege of watching the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games before the rest of the world. I walked into Homebush running track believing I would one day run here like Cathy Freeman.

I won two bronze medals at the championships, and all the coaches said to me that if I could get my head right and just believe in myself a little more, I could be great…

Fast forward again. It’s now 12 years later and I’m no longer a runner but a professional cyclist in my first year as a pro. I’d had a successful start to my career with wins in the USA, and now I found myself in London as a guest of a team sponsor, to cheer on my teammates at the Olympics time trial in 2012. The Olympic fire began to ignite in me again, just like that 7-year-old in front of the TV. My first year as a pro, and I was still that kid with big dreams, hopes and aspirations. I could smell it, I could taste it…I was hungry to get my chance at the Olympic Dream.

Now in my fifth year as a pro, the Olympics is here once again. Everyone always says the same thing, but I honestly don’t know where the last few years went… Here I am, about to start the second part of the racing calendar, and I will not be in contention to go to the games. I’ll once again be watching it from the sidelines.

Last year when I had my first meetings with ORICA, the team asked what my goals were for this year, and if the Olympics was one of them. I was realistic and honest. I had seen the course, and heard the rider feedback. It was a climbers course, and I would be at the bottom of the list of potentials. So nope, the Olympics was not a goal. I would instead focus my energy towards a strong Spring, and making the team for the World Championships in Qatar, which is pancake flat, and would suit me much better than a mountainous course in Rio.

At what point had I backed out and let the Olympic Dream die? Was I using the course as an excuse to not even try? Was I terrified to put all my hopes and dreams into making the team, and then not making it? That I would fail that 7-year-old me?

I’m a realist, I really did not think the course would suit me, but perhaps I should have had my teammate Gracie’s attitude and said “F*** it, I’m not a favourite, but it’s a dream of mine, and I may as well do absolutely everything possible to try to make it happen, and die trying.” (dramatic,I know, but if you have seen me descend, it’s kinda true).

So as I sit here in the café after a long solo ride through the hills of Italy and Switzerland, I realise that even though the Olympic Dream may never come true, my dream of being happy doing what I truly love has come true. When I learnt about the sport of cycling, and started dreaming of becoming “pro”, I bought a cork board, glued a map of Europe on it and then stuck on photos of all the cycling greats I knew of: Ina Teutenberg, Judith Ardnt, Sarah Carrigan and Nicole Cooke, just to name a few. It was my dream board that I looked at every day. With the one word I live by smack bang in the middle of the board “believe”.

This is where accountability and resilience come in to play. I am the only one accountable for not at least trying to reach that Olympic Dream…so, Tokyo in 2020, I’m coming for you! I’m going to throw everything at chasing that dream! And you know what, it’s been one heck of a journey to get to this point, what’s another another four years in the grand scheme of “life”?

Loren Rowney is a professional rider for Orica-AIS. The South-African born Australian lives in Girona, Spain during the European cycling season.
Pictured: Rowney during the 2012 UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg.

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