The Olympic Games...what might seem like a four-year cycle of preparation, is for most athletes decades of training, clocking in tens of thousands of hour of intense sessions, just for this moment.
As an Olympian, I can tell you that nothing quite prepares you for what it is like to compete at the Olympic Games except one's firsthand experience. Sure an athlete may have competed at a World Cup, or a World Championship -- sometimes providing a more competitive field than the Olympic Games themselves (depending on one's sport) -- but there is something different when the world Olympic proceeds the word Games. Perhaps that is why far and few athletes medal at their very first Olympic Games.
So, what does it take to be a medalist at the Olympic Games? Well, to answer that question would be like explaining one of the natural wonders of the world. It is an involved question. Many researchers have conducted studies in the area, and still we are continuing to uncover more answers to this question. Indeed, there are physiological and biomechanical attributes that are necessary, as well as good coaching, support, training environment and of course mental acuity. In fact, often most athletes and coaches will dedicate much of their time to the physical, technical, and nutritional components of training, while neglecting the mental aspects. Ironically, at the Olympic level an athlete's state of mind can be all the difference between a podium performance and placing fourth.
When it comes to the Olympic Games, be prepared to observe three types of medalists. The first medalist is your favoured athlete. This is the person who has had a consistent successful series of past performances leading into the Games. They may be even undefeated. And since sport confidence is influenced most by past performances, these athletes' confidence may be larger than life itself. The medal is theirs to lose and that may be their paradoxical dilemma. If they allow a sliver of doubt to enter, they may unravel their seemingly unflappable assurance and provide the gateway for a non-favoured athlete to beat them.
The veteran is the second type of athlete you can count on to snag a medal. Unlike the "favoured athlete" they don't necessarily rely on recent past performance to build their assurance of a medal. What they are able to do is call upon the many past performance success they've attained throughout their athletic career. They have perfected the art of coming back from a major setback and competing under pressure, as they've watch their competitors falter. They've seen it all before! They could be ranked tragically in the dust to the favoured competitors, but do not count them out. They know how to get it done when it counts. It is likely what has allowed them to last as long as they have in their sport.
Finally, there is the unknown, whom I like to refer to as the wild card. This athlete may not be favoured to win. They have flown under the radar and may have even barely qualified for the Olympic Games. As a result no one is expecting anything from this athlete and that, my friend, makes him a dangerous competitor. The ability to compete with the feeling of nothing to lose and reckless abandonment is one of the greatest gift an athlete can experience. It allows an athlete to get out of their own way (mentally) and allow themselves to do what it is they are inherently able to do. Often when these athletes medal, many will view them as the underdog and for that warm our hearts. Everyone loves to see an underdog succeed!
There will be many more types of medalists, all with different ways to climb the podium. Certainly, to be an Olympian is an incredible accomplishment, but to walk away from the Olympic Games with a medal is beyond a dream come true.
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