Jana Pittman has never won a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
The 34-year-old has three children, is currently studying medicine, and is a two-time world champion in the 400m hurdles. She won gold twice at the Commonwealth Games, and is one of only nine athletes internationally to win athletics world championships at the youth, junior, and senior levels.
She’s also the only Australian female to have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics – competing in the two-woman bobsleigh event at the 2014 Winter Olympics. As you do.
But on Tuesday night’s Insight, Pittman told host Jenny Brockie, “I never hit the goal I was hoping for in my career”.
“Growing up as a child, winning gold at the Olympic Games is all I ever dreamed of… I never made it.”
When Brockie interrupted, “…but you were a world champion,” Pittman said fighting back tears, “it’s not what I wanted”.
Jana Pittman speaks to Mia Freedman on No Filter about having bulimia at the height of her career. (Post continues…)
Pittman was one of several athletes to appear on part one of Game Over, the two-part Insight special about how champions cope with life after sport.
Lauren Jackson, Barry Hall, Libby Trickett, and Matthew Mitcham were just some of the other athletes who spoke about the deeply emotional process of retiring from elite sport, but something about Pittman’s struggle with walking away from her career was particularly raw.
Unlike her fellow athletes, Pittman hasn’t officially retired. She can’t. She says no matter what, “I can’t help but think [about Tokyo]”.
"I can’t let go because that elusive gold medal never happened."
"I need an off switch," she said. "I’d love a set of doctors to sit me down and say you’re done."
At the same time, she's struggling with what happens when you no longer have time to train and you're no longer competing - and the impacts go far beyond social and professional changes. "I feel very fat," she said. "I feel like I just can’t stop eating."
Libby Trickett interrupted to say, "you've just had a baby!" but Pittman said she hasn't "turned off" the athlete appetite.
Of course, Trickett has been vocal in the Australian media about the body image issues she faced after retirement. In 2014, she said some of her problems came from the fact that during her swimming career, "I wasn’t a woman, I was an athlete."
When she put on 10kg after leaving elite swimming, and her body felt at odds with the body that helped her become one of the best swimmers in the world.
This seems to be a distressing thought for Pittman, too.
Meanwhile, former AFL star Barry Hall opened up about suffering from depression, and Matthew Mitcham explained that the aftermath of winning gold at the Olympics triggered a relapse of his drug addiction.
It seems retirement from elite sport is a particularly vulnerable time in terms of mental health. Now Jana Pittman, like many before her, must face the difficult task of differentiating between Jana the athlete and Jana the person - because despite what she may have felt for the majority of her life, they're simply not one and the same.
Listen to Mia’s full conversation with Jana Pittman here...