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An interview with inspirational athlete Anna Kiesenhofer: Road Race Olympic gold medalist & mathematician

An interview with inspirational athlete Anna Kiesenhofer: Road Race Olympic gold medalist & mathematician

Varda has created a data-driven approach to improve the technology infrastructure of ag data discoverability, and ultimately benefit our food system. Something which is extremely important for all of us.


Alessia Baker



Our mission is to offer an infrastructure that allows farm and field data to be exchanged more efficiently to support projects that aim to make the food system more transparent, sustainable, and efficient.

Recently we have had the pleasure of welcoming Anna Kiesenhofer to share our mission with her. Anna is an Austrian cyclist and mathematician, best known for her outstanding performance in the road race at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where she won the gold medal. She has a unique profile as both an accomplished athlete and a highly educated academic.

We recognised our values, impact, learning, optimism, and respect aligned with Anna’s own drive to pursue one’s passion with determination.

Recently, we sat down with Anna to learn more about her life, experiences and why the Varda message resonates with her:

What initially inspired you to get into road racing, and how has your passion evolved over time?

I have always loved endurance sports. I first started with running and triathlon when I was around 18 years old. The fact that I ended up with road racing was a bit of a coincidence. I got injured while running, so then cycling became my main sport. No matter what the discipline is, I just like the way you have to push yourself and work hard every day to achieve your goals.


How did you manage to push forward and accomplish so much in two very difficult and demanding areas (math and cycling)?

To be honest, I lead a very “boring” life and didn’t have much going on apart from math and cycling. This allowed me to completely focus on these two things. It might seem like a big sacrifice, and that’s true, but on the other hand I also find a lot of satisfaction in these two areas. 


Can you describe the most exhilarating moment you've experienced during a road race? What made it stand out for you?

Well, it’s hard to beat the winning moment when I crossed the line at the Olympic road race in Tokyo in 2021. I had experienced other achievements in the past that made me very happy, and somehow winning the gold medal in Tokyo embodies all of them - all of the sacrifices I had made over the years had finally culminated with the big reward.


How do you prepare both physically and mentally for a demanding road race? Are there any specific rituals or routines you follow?

The physical preparation is quite “classical” and starts many years in advance. It takes a lot of time to get the body into top shape. I have also started working more consciously on the mental side of it. I always make a mental race plan as well, in addition to a “physical” race plan. I believe it’s important to prepare for moments that will be mentally tough, such as moments when I may be in a lot of pain. You have to know what to think in these moments, to be prepared and be able to push through.


In a competitive environment, teamwork can be essential. Can you talk about a race where collaboration with your teammates made a difference?

The whole preparation is “teamwork” - even in everyday life I need a strong support network to deal with the high demands of training and racing. The atmosphere in the team before and during a race is very important. E.g. with my national team, I know the staff very well, the trust and good vibes are vital for performing on race day.


Over the course of your racing career, how have you managed setbacks or disappointments during races? 

The first step is to acknowledge that disappointments and setbacks are part of the game. Falling short of one’s expectations is a side effect of setting yourself ambitious goals. Failure is always a possibility if we set ourselves high goals and explore our limits. Viewing it like this makes it feel less bad. When I have a disappointing race I allow myself some time to get over whatever has happened - time heals wounds. Usually, I get back to work very quickly, because it’s precisely in these moments that I realize: I am doing this for myself. Not for the medals, or for money, but because I like putting in the work, I enjoy the daily challenge. 


Who are your sources of inspiration? Athletes? Public figures?

No public figures at all, since the “public figures” are usually the people we know the least about. I admire many people in my close environment, such as other cyclists that I have ridden with (many of them hobby cyclists). I admire their attitude, how they work hard even when life is difficult.

I also admire some professional athletes whom I know personally and who have developed steadily over many years to now be among the worlds best. It’s always about the journey that someone has traveled, not about the titles and medals they have collected.


Athletes often have to consume a lot of calories. What's your favorite guilty pleasure food that you treat yourself to after a particularly tough competition or training session?

I don’t have any “guilty pleasure food” since I almost never feel guilty for eating anything!  I like chocolate ice cream, but only right after training. Otherwise I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

I like good bread, good cheese, good chocolate, berries, fresh vegetables, avocados. I’m lucky because I’m naturally drawn to healthy food and don’t have to resist any “temptations”. For me, it’s all about simple meals but quality ingredients.


The bottom line

Whether an Olympic cyclist, an entrepreneur, or a farmer, food is at the heart of our lives. It seems redundant making this statement given that it is the sustenance to life, yet there is still so much to be done to protect our food system. Working towards a transition towards a sustainable food system, as with any significant endeavor, requires a commitment to one’s goals, resilience, and optimism. The task at hand is challenging, but the mission is extremely important. As Anna stated, ‘do what is right, not what is easy’.


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