In his quieter moments, away from the afterglow of an Olympic gold medal, the question has repeated inside kayaker Dave Smith’s mind.
Smith completed his lifelong ambition in London in August, when he joined forces with Murray Stewart, Tate Smith and Jacob Clear to win the K41000m final.
Suddenly the lingering doubts of Beijing’s disappointment and last year’s world championship second placing evaporated in the euphoria of success.
But as the toast of the nation during Olympic street parades and endorsements, Smith felt a nagging anxiety.
It’s something which numerous champions have wrestled with, so much so it’s been given a label of ‘‘post-Olympic depression’’.
Smith believes he has what it takes to defend his medal in Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time, but said the first step had been coping with his emotions.
‘‘Sometimes you struggle to think ‘what’s next in life?’’’ Smith said.
‘‘I’ve achieved the highest point in my career, but it brings up questions in life and what else there is that I want to do.
‘‘How do I appreciate my life now I’ve done this?
‘‘I’ve needed some time off, just to sleep in and not do anything for a while, just getting away.
‘‘It will be a tough season to go to Europe and be mentally ready about what to do next.
‘‘I’ve heard about it a bit recently, athletes suffering what they call post-Olympic depression and I can understand why they say that.
‘‘It’s just such a natural high the whole Olympic experience and then you’re left to think about what’s next.’’
Already he has put his gold medal to use, speaking at several public engagements, Illawarra schools and is about to become an ambassador for the Cancer Council to promote sun safety.
Aside from raising his profile, it has helped clear his head.
In the build-up to London, the Warilla paddler declared the crew were determined to perfect their preparation, having been part of the Beijing team which missed out on the final.
Smith helped finish the nation’s Olympic campaign in style, after Australia managed just one gold in the first nine days of competition.
With 150m remaining in the race, Smith tempted a glance to see where his rivals were after the Aussies had led from the outset.
The beaming smile which emerged on his face told the story.
Victory was theirs, even overcoming a false start by eventual silver medallists Hungary, to prevail by almost half a boat length, with the Czech Republic third.
‘‘It’s still a kind of dream to think it’s yours,’’ he said.
‘‘The funny thing is, other people wear it more than I do and sometimes I think people appreciate it more than I do.
‘‘It’s taken some time to sink in, I can never really explain the feeling, Smith said.
‘‘I’ve enjoyed getting out there and being involved in events and being able to talk about it, I think it’s helped me to start getting some focus back.
‘‘Otherwise, [the medal] would just sit in the sock drawer.’’
Smith will return to competitive paddling in December in an open water ocean race off Sydney’s northern beaches, before taking his first steps towards the elite kayaking regattas in Europe again next year.
The rest of the Illawarra’s Olympians have also returned to competition in recent weeks.
Bulli runner Ryan Gregson, who bowed out in the semi-final stage of the 1500m in London, finished second in a 10-kilometre race in Tasmania.
Albion Park’s Casey Eastham – part of the senior group of Hockeyroos players entrusted with leading Australia to gold in Rio De Janeiro – finished second playing for NSW in the national titles in Perth.
The Hockeyroos missed out on a semi-final spot on goal difference in London.
Kookaburras striker Kieran Govers was one of six Illawarra players in the NSW team that finished fourth in Canberra.
Kiama Downs’ volleyballer Aidan Zingel was part of the Australian team which made a fairytale run to qualify for the Olympics, then stunned international powerhouse Poland in their final London fixture.
Zingel plays for Blu Volley Verona in Italy and is expected to be part of the Australian team in Rio.
Swimmers Jarrod Poort (1500m freestyle) and Dave McKeon (400m freestyle) are back in training before diving back into the FINA world circuit again.
Having retired after London, coaching has filled much of the void for Stanwell Park water polo player Alicia McCormack.
Her dream of heading for the exit with gold went unfulfilled, but her bronze medals from the past two Olympics are now held in a better light.
ILLAWARRA ATHLETES IN LONDON
David Smith K4 1000m gold
Alicia McCormack Water polo bronze
Kieran Govers Hockey bronze
Ryan Gregson 1500m athletics semi-final
Casey Eastham Hockey, third in Group B (three wins, one draw, one loss)
Aidan Zingel Volleyball, fifth in Group A (two wins, three losses)
David McKeon Swimming, fifth in 400m freestyle heats, second in 4x200m heat (team finished fifth in final)
Jarrod Poort Swimming, seventh in 1500m heat