The Makings of a Champion

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What exactly creates a sport star? How do you define that edge that champions embody and runners up seem to frustratingly lack?

No doubt, romantics will maintain that pure God-given talent is what has carried the likes of Roger Federer through to win six Wimbledon titles, and propelled Gebrselassie towards his world record speeds. Reality pushes us to ask though, how far these ultimate athletes would have been able to rise above their competition without the thousands of pounds worth of funding pumped into their coaching, parental support and good fortune that laid opportunity before them.

Whilst it is true that their ability and adeptness at their sport is what has provoked money their way, that talent would not have been able to express itself had they not exercised pure determination, taken available opportunity and received financial backing. Can talent really be defined as an ethereal entity in itself, possessed from birth, or simply a collection of lucky circumstances and a strong mentality?

Consider first the latter component. Most athletes face adversity of one kind or another at some point in their career, but the determination to persevere through it is what leads to ultimate success. One exemplary Briton to embody this admirable characteristic is Paula Radcliffe. She has famously fought against asthma through her entire life, refusing to allow the condition to stop her from achieving several world records.

Could an inherent talent alone really stand against devoted commitment and brutal sacrifice?

Similarly, in 1996, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer but shrugged off the bleak diagnosis and went on to win Le Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005. In no way were these two individuals genetically engineered towards sporting success; on the contrary, they could have easily succumbed to negative thinking and allowed their conditions to limit their achievements but stood up to such limitations instead.

They each are examples of how a strong mindset and clear focus is an essential element to claiming championship, arguably more so than ‘inherent talent’. These two individuals demonstrate the power of the mind over matter as they have denied their limiting genetic characteristics. As here indicated, a strong mind is developed and harnessed over time: sport stars are made, not born.

Admittedly, in certain sports (namely tennis or horse-riding) being born into affluence to parents with connections is hugely beneficial and opens up a wealth of opportunities.

However, the availability of financial backing and parental support are worth nothing without the willingness of the individual to sacrifice any normality of life as well. One component is mutually dependent on the other in the creation of a champion. One look at a day in the life of British swimming champion, Rebecca Adlington is enough to illustrate the level of sacrifice necessary for achieving the highest success:

“These days I train four hours a day, six days a week, doing 10 pool sessions in total. On top of that I have physiotherapy, massage and strength training. There are no luxuries in training terms when you reach the top. I’m still up at 5am, training from 6am-8am and again in the afternoon. In the week I get home at 7.20pm, grab something to eat, watch a bit of TV and then crash.”

Could an inherent talent alone really stand against devoted commitment and brutal sacrifice?

I don’t think so. Refreshingly, it seems the greatest sports men and women prove that effort and commitment creates good results.

In all honesty, I don’t know that talent really even exists as something in itself at all. If it does, it could be best defined as a combination of all the things discussed in this article: endeavour and determination mixed with good fortune and privileged circumstances. Without one of which a keen sportsman will never become anything more than that.

True it may be that money will take a person so far, and parents willing to drive their keen children to daily 5am training sessions is helpful. However, without the positive thinking and determination to accompany it, these superficial components are worth nothing. Sport stars are, therefore, made and not simply born.

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