• Rebecca Wiasak competes in the 2016 World Track Championships in London where she won gold for the individual pursuit (Getty)Source: Getty
In the wake of her non-selection for the women's team pursuit at the Rio Olympics, two-time individual pursuit (IP) world champion Rebecca Wiasak now finds herself thinking about her place within cycling. Since the announcement, she's experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions and questions about her future.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
25 Aug 2016 - 10:55 AM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2016 - 11:07 AM

It is hard to completely understand the psyche of Olympic athletes. Consider the pursuit team: four years of effort put into being the best in the world for four minutes.

So many things can drive the train off the tracks. For Wiasak, it was non-selection for the team she'd worked so closely with for years to get to that point.

For the other five athletes, it was a crash in training leaving Melissa Hoskins barely able to walk and Ashlee Ankudinoff unable to assume her time trial position.

“It’s something I’m still dealing with. It’s been very mixed emotions,” said Wiasak. “Especially with the girls overseas having that crash and feeling completely powerless back home as a reserve.

“I may have been required but I wasn’t in a position to be there. That’s probably the thing I struggle with the most.”

Wiasak was with the squad right up until the final training camp in California at the end of July. She farewelled her team mates as they flew off to Rio then she boarded her return flight to Australia.

"I wasn’t selected and you have to accept that, that I didn’t do enough. 

"To be there with the squad until the last moment, when they flew to Rio and I flew back home, that was another really challenging time, very emotional.

“Still little things set me off now. If you ask a question about the Olympics or use a particular word that does still set me off. It keeps me awake at night and there’s a lot of things that I’ll have to work through to try and move forward.

“I guess everyone has their own individual goals, you all want to make it on the team. For me personally and Sutto (Gary Sutton- women’s endurance team coach) says it all the time ‘you’re the ultimate team player’, but that didn’t get me on the team.

“These girls, they’re all former world record holders and I’ve said all along, who do you leave off that team? I didn’t do a four kilometre team’s pursuit in the selection period so I didn’t fulfill the criteria.”

For some, jealousy and anger may have accompanied non-selection in the women's team pursuit squad after years of striving to make the team for the Olympics. But when the team crashed in training, schadenfreude was the furthest thing from Wiasak’s mind as she watched on like the rest of the cycling public back in Australia.

“You have your own personal disappointment and feelings but then knowing that they are hurting just as much over there. We didn’t train for that result.

“We’ve all put in so much and especially for people like Mel (Melissa Hoskins) she’s said this is her last Olympics, her last race. It was a really disappointing end to our campaign, but that’s the reality of sport at any point things can go wrong and they do.”

Despite the way things ended for Wiasak and the team, there are plenty of highlights from the last few years that the 32 year-old Geelong-born Canberran can look back on with pride.

Setting an Australian record in the IP on the way to two world titles, and taking world cup podium places as part of the pursuit team are achievements anyone would desire.

“We’ve had incredible success along the road and that’s something that I use knowing I’m a current world champion, a two times world champion. Even though my Olympic campaign didn’t end the way I would have liked we’ve still achieved some incredible things in the process.”

On her future, Wiasak sounds unsure what exactly lies in store. Unlike many sportspeople she can fall back upon a career in sports journalism with a degree and several years' experience in the industry. She jumped into cycling after deciding she wanted to create news rather than report it. 

“Yeah, it seems a long time ago. I think it was more than ten years ago that I did my cadetship at the Canberra Times and a lot of people have asked ‘Oh, are you going to go back to journalism?’ I think they assume I’ve missed the Olympics now and this is the end of my career.”

Wiasak’s partner, Ben Hill rides at an elite level on the road with the Taiwan-based Attaque Team Gusto. Many in the industry are of the opinion he has what it takes compete as a professional in Europe. The pair were at the recent National Road Series event, the Tour of King Valley, where Wiasak won a stage and Hill won the King of the Mountains jersey and was third overall.

“We have family, life and other career goals but they’re all down the track and we’ve always said to live for today. We’re enjoying and loving what we do right now and everything else is a future problem.

“I’m pretty lucky to be a full-time cyclist at the moment, maybe I should pursue my career a little bit, so there’s not a five or six year gap in my CV if I do want to get back into a career in the media.”

“Even now, I’m wondering if I should contact some teams for next year because after April… I’m not sure what’s happening with the track program, but I assume after the world championships I’m going to have the freedom to pursue the road again.

“A lot of the girls, Nettie (Annette Edmondson), Amy (Cure) have been in road teams before.

“I’d like to go to America (where the criterium style of racing would suit Wiasak’s talents) but Ben’s got his heart set on Europe. That something I’ll have to consider as well and it’s tricky for me to make plans now when he doesn’t know where his career will go next year.”

Wiasak hasn’t given up on her Olympic dream yet but acknowledges it won’t be easy to be a member of the squad at the age of 36 in Tokyo 2020.

“There’s more girls coming through as well and it’s going to be a tough ask for me to continue if I want to dedicate another four years to another Olympic cycle and push through to Tokyo.

“There’s goals along the way, defending my world title in Hong Kong at the world championships in April next year and of course the Commonwealth Games at home in 2018 so I’d like to continue, provided I continue to receive the support.

“Any female cyclist can tell how hard it is to train and compete full-time and we’re very lucky that we receive incredible support from the Australian Sports Commission but there will be a review coming up no doubt and who knows.”

For all athletes that dedicate so much of their time to an event that comes around once every four years, the Olympics and the period after is always going to be a time where major, life-shaping decisions are made.

Wiasak is far from a hard and fast decision right now but you get the sense that whatever direction she decides to go whether it is on the track, the road or in the media she will pursue it with the passion she has displayed in the past.