Is there life after the Olympics? We asked this question to a handful of adidas Group employees who – after years of preparation, training and dreaming – competed at the Olympics in their respective sports. Semifinalists, finalists, and gold medalists. All elite athletes, all master jugglers of sports and life. They know what it feels like to come down from the Olympic high and continue working toward their next goal – and first figure out what that next goal is.
When motivation feels out of reach for you, take heed from the following replies. For some, being bound to one big goal leads to a feeling of emptiness afterwards. For others, it’s business as usual as the next big think lurks around the corner. One thing, however, remains the same: their identity as an athlete.
Whose story resonates with you the most?
Great Britain, 800m, Sydney 2000
“It wasn’t difficult to adjust to everyday training. The competition is usually followed by a short break, and you immediately start thinking about the next championships. I went back to work as usual, and felt motivated. Although you’re working in a 4-year Olympic cycle, there’s a major championship every six months in athletics, so your training is planned accordingly. You need to be performing throughout the year.”
Germany, Rowing: Men’s Coxless Four, Beijing 2008 and London 2012
“I had mixed feelings after my first Olympics in Beijing. I was overwhelmed, and didn’t want the Games to end. It was hard to go back to normal life and training. The second Games in London were different. I knew what to expect, but the preparation was more difficult because pressure was higher. After London, I needed a two-month break from rowing. I had been doing it nearly nonstop for 14 years.”
USA, 3000m Steeplechase, Barcelona 1992
“After Barcelona, I felt I had accomplished everything I had dreamt about. Three and a half years of preparation for a lifetime of memories! I started training for the World Championships the following year, and was eyeing on the next Olympics. Unfortunately, I came down with an injury, and at that time, I chose to retire from athletics. Motivation after the Games wasn’t difficult to find. You never lose the drive or discipline. That stays with you through life, both at work and on the field of play.”
Sweden, Ice Hockey, Turin 2006
“The next day, I woke up and realized it was the day after the Olympics Final. A day I had not thought about in four years – I had been so focused on first making the team, and then fighting for a medal.
“It took a few months to get back to training. I was recovering from injuries, and both my body and my mind needed a break. After travelling to Asia, enjoying a different culture, and being surrounded by family, my next goal was to find a job as I couldn’t continue playing. I found one at CCM Hockey where I’ve now been for over 10 years and I couldn’t be happier. I still work with the sport I love and my co-workers share the same passion.”
Spain, 5,000m, Athens 2004
“Olympics were THE experience of my life. Now I can see things from another point of view, but the most important learnings came from years of hard training, leading up to that big moment. When I quit athletics I needed to start a ‘normal’ life. Suddenly I realized I’m 30-years-old, all my friends were lawyers or bankers, and I just went out and got my degree and showed a lot of determination.”
South Africa, Field Hockey, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012
“I was a junior in the team in Athens. Even with all the mental and physical training, nothing can prepare you for the experience, so afterwards I was more determined to succeed. Four years later in Beijing, I was vice captain of the team and at my peak. London 2012 was a totally different experience: I was juggling full-time work and I had a 22-month-old son.
“London didn’t mark just the end of the Olympic Games for me – it was the end of my sporting career. Resuming to reality naturally leaves a hole in your life, but it all depends on what you’re returning to. What got me through was returning to my family and my adidas career that was more than just a job.
“Everything I practice in my professional career I’ve learnt from sports.I’ve also learnt so many life lessons along the way and each one of these memories I will cherish always.”
New Zealand, Football, Beijing 2008
“After the Olympics, I retired from football. Since I didn’t play full time, I needed a career I could live from – and was passionate about – over the one I was extremely passionate about.
“Coming back to earth was a bigger thud than I had anticipated because I went cold turkey and didn’t play any football at all. At first, it felt like I was on an extended vacation, but once my friends went back to their 24/7 football life, I felt lonely.
“For the first time, I was forced to think about what life after football meant. I was fortunate to have my adidas job, and that helped me set new career goals as well as personal goals. I missed football and the energy it gave me, so I joined a local football club and lived out a small aspiration of mine to be scoring goals instead of defending them.”
Spain, 5,000m, Athens 2004
“I qualified for Sydney 2000, but due to a federation decision I had to stay at home, so the next Games were constantly on my mind. I didn’t relax; a true champion always seeks new challenges, so I started preparing for Athens 2004.
“Adjusting to training wasn’t difficult, motivation-wise. Injuries were the tough part, so I had to start from scratch many times. But that only made me more resilient. I was determined to win, so I set short-term goals (National and European Championships) in order to follow my bigger goal: the next Olympic Games.”
Netherlands, Waterpolo, Atlanta 1996
“After the Olympics, I had achieved all my sports goals, so I needed to find new ambitions. It wasn’t difficult: my priority was to find a job where I would be able to develop myself. I’m lucky to have found one in the sporting industry, the best possible place for me.”
New Zealand, 800m, Athens 2004
“I remember the actual night I ran well…What happened after is a bit of a blur, but I remember just wandering around the infield in front of 72,000 people at the closing ceremony, promising to myself I’d be back in Beijing. Well, life and sports aren’t always so simple, and Athens turned out to be my first and last Olympics. In hindsight, maybe it was better that way. Being part of the Olympics, the race, and meeting my childhood sporting role model made it just about as good as it ever could be.”
Germany, Whitewater Slalom, Barcelona 1992
“After the Olympics, I started studying mathematics. It was quite an experience to be ‘just’ one student among hundreds, not part of a team traveling around the world following their passion. My initial plan was to stop competing altogether, but I soon ran out of energy…Turned out, sport gave me the energy I needed to study. Two years later I didn’t make it to the team, but doing sport and work in parallel was a great decision. In a healthy body lives a healthy spirit.”
Canada, Ice Hockey, Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014
“I always found it difficult to come back from any competition, yet alone the Olympics. You have just achieved one of your dreams, so when you come down from that high, it’s not easy. You go from being surrounded by passionate teammates to feeling somewhat alone, wondering what’s next.
“After Vancouver, I was determined to be in Sochi. I also set short-term goals, some not even hockey related, but the balance helped me stay motivated. After Sochi, it was easier to work toward the next goal because I felt ready for it: to build my professional career.”
Greece, Softball, Athens 2004 (injured before the Games)
“From 2002 to 2004, I lived and breathed softball, so when I got injured before the Olympics, I was understandably upset. However, I volunteered for the Baseball Federation, continued to support my team, attended practice sessions, and cheered my teammates on.
“Witnessing the dedication of top athletes during the big event and in the Olympic Village was such an inspiration, and the memories will stay with me forever. Afterwards, I adjusted to the workplace with the learnings of a lifetime: setting goals, supporting my team, working hard to get results – and making each day matter.”