It’s such a shame that I didn’t get an Olympics gold medal in any of the Track and Field events. It is even more painful being a local who lives less than an hour away from the Olympics village in Stratford, London. This is me, “once-upon-a time” sprinter and 400m hurdles champion. It was outrightly impossible for anyone to beat me in the race but we are talking of two decades or so ago. My last memory of relay races and participation was in primary school but all the same, I feel like I was denied my chance in the Olympics award.
Talk of day dreaming mixed with nostalgia as a sprinter and you have me in the picture. The question that you should ask is: “Do you think that the undeveloped sprinting talents of almost twenty years would make it to the Olympics?” Rightly so? Absolutely!
It’s interesting how folks think that merely dreaming of medals or latent talent is enough to take them to the most important platforms in history. Despite my inability to get to the games, my love and dare I say, belief in my sprinting abilities, got me glued to the television box. For someone like me who spends less than two hours a week watching television, it felt like a spell had been cast on me as I watched race after race, competition after competition and the medal awards ceremonies. The Olympics athletics brought deep thoughts and imaginations to my mind.
First, it was the mini-speeches given, before and after each event,by the athletes and commentators that got me thinking. I listened to former Olympics champion, Michael Johnson of the United States of America and former heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis of the United Kingdom analyse the athletes and their performances in various sporting events. Michael and Denise, being commentators for the BBC spoke consistently of the mental focus and stabilities of the athletes. The award-winning athletes attested to this fact by stating how they focused on what was at hand and gave it their all.
At one point, it seemed as though the commentators were not too keen on techniques and skills. Rather, the emphasis was on how mentally strong each athlete was for her/him to come out in giant strides. For any athlete to perform at her/his season’s or personal best, she/he needed to be mentally focused. Another point that Michael constantly mentioned was the ability of an athlete to maintain endurance throughout the sessions.
Talking of mental focus, one starts to question exactly how this works. A good example is Mo Farah of the United Kingdom who competed in the 10,000metres men’s race. He was said to have relocated to the USA over a year ago in order to focus for this new challenge; the 5000metres being his favourite in times past. Prior to relocating to Oregon in the USA, Mo lived and trained with East African athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia for several months in the East end of London. The rationale behind that was to watch them, study their techniques and habits before racing. That was a move in getting himself mentally fit for the race which often favours athletes from the high altitude landscape in the horn of Africa. It goes in various ways: one, being around the champions made him reason and view himself in that league. There was no way he could view himself to be out of their league having woken up every day for five months in the same house with these world champions. That was part of the mental conditioning before getting into the qualifying finals for the 10,000 metres Olympics race.
Having secured his place by associating closely with the East African athletes, the next thing for Mo was to work intensively in a different environment. He chose Oregon where he could train intensely with an American athlete, Rupp, a Caucasian.Rupp is not favoured by genes or nationality in winning a long distance race often reserved for those with East African Negroid genetic make-up. The interesting thing was that he was the first-runner up after Mo Farah in the race. Mo’s efforts could be explained away by his Somali descent but what about Rupp, a pure Caucasian man? It was a mix of sheer determination, mental focus, excellent coaching and hard work that won the duo the medals.
They both set their minds to beating the defending world champions of many years but that was only the start of victory! The next step taken by the duo was training for five weeks preceding the heats in the horn of Africa. Yes, they both trained in Ethiopia-known to be the one of the steepest landscapes in the world – to hone their skills and talents. The outcome was obvious for the whole world to see as they won the gold and silver medals respectively. Bekele, the defending world champion in that race, could not believe his eyes in the finals. His facial expressions along the finishing line showed shock and awe at seeing the Caucasian American Rupp race past him.
The lessons as highlighted here show the excellent performances that can be accomplished when the mind is well utilised. It starts with conditioning the mind for success, associating with the giants to the point of seeing oneself as one, paying attention to learning special techniques from the best, planning regimes for training, team work effort( training with coaches, therapists and a career partner), implementing plans that work , self-denial, endurance and constant practice.
These are few lessons that I could have taken on if indeed I wanted to win an Olympics medal instead of dreaming in my comfortable king-size bed.
Olanike Adebayo is an author and freelance writer based in the UK. She runs an educational social enterprise at the same time as being a post-graduate research student in Education, health promotion and International development at the Institute of Education, London. She is also an avid inspirational speaker at various youth/student conferences.