Filed Under (Olympics) by Paul on 21-09-2012
For several years now Paralympians and Olympians have been getting used to having microphones pushed into their faces at that very difficult moment of completing their event – and sometimes winning a medal. In the Atlanta Olympics Team GB won only one gold and athletes there were more likely to be asked why they hadn’t won.
With the number of medals GB athletes won in 2012, we watched as our TV screens presented us with a constant flow of them being asked how they felt about winning a medal and why they thought they had won it.
The difference this time wasn’t just in terms of the number of medal winning athletes that were asked about their success, but the number of times that we heard a very similar set of answers. .
To the questions “Why did win a medal?” or “Why did you do so well?” there was a single, almost universal, answer – hard work. A few years ago the answers would have least contained a nod towards the notion of talent, but now to win any form of medal or to do at all well, the answer is very hard and continuing work.
We learnt a great deal about David Weir’s training regime around Richmond Park and about how he raced with cyclists at full pelt to increase his speed. We heard swimmer after swimmer tell us about getting up at 0530 in the freezing cold and going down to the baths to get 3 hours in – and then another three hours in the evening. In between they would do some gym work. That’s how hard this was.
I learnt much more about ‘the build up of lactic acid’ than I ever wanted to know. We heard from one gold medal winning cyclist how this makes them throw up after every race and every practice session.
And every time we heard about the pain. The daily pain and the end of the session ice baths to reduce the inflammation so that the next day you could go through it all again. If it wasn’t for the ice baths you might have to have some time off from the training and the pain – and of course that would be awful.
Having learnt about the training and the exhaustion, we then learnt about the trainers and the team of people that pushed each of the medal winners so very hard, every day, all the time. “If they hadn’t made me go out and do the hard work I would not have had the pain. But then I would not have won the medal.”
“I could not have done this on my own”. Because no person on their own would make themselves go through all of this.
Images I will never forget – of one of the two scullers who had just won silver and was only just about able to breathe as he apologised for not winning gold – of the bronze medal winning brother in the triathlon collapsing and vomiting.
I found this very moving because it recognised in moments of triumph the hours of toil that makes the triumph possible. I will never forget the competition in the two games, but the images I am left with are not of the stadia but of dark February mornings 3 years ago when the regime kicked in and the pain started and built.
So what have I learnt? It is hard work that makes great athletes and great people. Of course great talent helps but it is the hard work that creates the medal winner and the triumph.
And for me that democratises the whole experience of elite athletics and provides the lesson from the athletes for the rest of us.
If you want to do well – work hard. If you want to be better than others – train better and work harder.
I combine this with another thought from another great athlete. Gary Player the great South African golfer was asked after he had won one of his major golf tournaments, if he didn’t think he had been very lucky in sinking some shots. His answer was,
“…the harder I practice, the luckier I get”