An Olympic Medal, but Then What?

Many athletes experience a vacuum when they withdraw competition
By Elizabeth Harmon,  Newser User
Posted Aug 18, 2008 3:47 PM CDT
From left, Germany's Timo Boll, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Christian Suess show off their silver medals for table tennis at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Monday, Aug. 18, 2008. China won the gold.    (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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(Newser) – When Olympic careers end, many athletes endure emotional stress or cope with the comedown by turning to drugs, the New York Times reports. Few can expect the multi-million-dollar endorsement deals that await Michael Phelps, and many fail to redirect their focus. The fix, says one sports psychologist, is to identify a BHAG: a "big, hairy, audacious goal."

One study of Czech Olympians found that only 17% made the transition without distress or substance abuse. Some, like speedskater-turned-surgeon Eric Heiden, do find a "BHAG." But most endure nights like Bruce Jenner's after he won gold in Montreal in 1976. “I had no plans, nothing,” he said. "I mean, I was extremely satisfied but also devastated by the finality of it all."