To Be an Olympian
By Thirumur David Kiran
Over the past few weeks, the Olympics has claimed the interest of the world as 11,000 athletes from 207 countries have dazzled one and all with their strength, skill, speed, endurance, mental toughness, and overall athleticism. World records have been broken, previously unattainable heights have been achieved, memories have been made, and moments have been experienced that have captured the imagination of the viewing audience and elevated their makers into instant stardom—some of them into immediate legend!
According to the statistic team of the BBC website, an estimated 3.5 billion people were engaged with the Olympics worldwide—through viewing on television or through commenting on mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
I will happily admit that I was included in that figure.
I am a massive sports fan. True, I don’t play sports all that well at the moment, but I have an avid interest in viewing sports and learning about new sports. In another life I would probably be a sports anchor or journalist. But in my present life, sports are my way of relaxing and are a big hobby for me.
As such, the Olympic Games are a very happy time for the sport’s fan in me and I generally try to adapt my schedule to be able to keep up with the major events. This year, that meant waking up two hours earlier than usual in order to watch the final events of the day. That has resulted in about 4-5 hours of sleep a night, as my days are usually quite full. This schedule has truly deepened my relationship with the dark beauty we call coffee, and I will confess before all that my love for it has grown in manifold ways over the past few weeks.
Aside from enjoying the close races, the nail-biting finishes, the grandstand flourishes of ability, and the incredible feats of strength, I have come to have a healthy admiration for the amount of athleticism that these sportsmen and sportswomen. And it isn’t just about their rippling muscles and their incredibly toned physique. It’s their ability to run for an hour and then dig in and sprint the last lap. It’s their ability to swim at top speed day after day (sometimes two or three times a day) and still come out on top. It’s their ability to jump, flip, somersault, and twist in ways that the athletes of yesteryear could only dream of. It’s their ability to fight through pain and exhaustion to produce results. It’s their ability to have the mental grit that pushes them across the line ahead of the rest of the field.
Once in four years, these athletes have their moment in the sun. Once in four years, these athletes command the attention of the nations as they push all boundaries in search of gold. Once in four years, these athletes have a chance to become legend.
Once in four years, the world stops and admires these athletes. Once in four years, the world applauds these men and women as heroes for their feats.
However, that is not the whole story.
What people fail to realize is that it takes years and years of trying, failing, pain, agony, exhaustion, sore muscles, blood, sweat, and tears in order to produce a performance that takes them to a medal finish. What is seen on display is but a fraction.
A 100 meter dash takes under 10 seconds to complete, but years to perfect.
A vault is over in a single motion, but takes ages to master and improve.
A swim dash can finish in under a minute, but takes uncountable hours to train for.
Indeed, an Olympic performance is but a fraction—the tip of the iceberg. It is a culmination of effort, a synopsis of a lifetime of training. And while we must applaud achievement, we must not forget the hard work it took to get them there.
Michael Phelps (31), winner of 28 medals and holder of numerous records across five Olympics, trained for eight hours a day for five straight years during his teenage years without a single day off! His workouts were considered to be inhumane and his coach was dubbed “the mad scientist” but he continued them through his career, pushing his body beyond what most people would consider as the breaking point.
Simone Biles (19), winner of 5 medals (four gold) at Rio and highly touted as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, grew up in a foster home and began training at age 7 as a way to escape. She trained for hours and hours for years. Even her coach told her not to train too hard, to which Simone responded, “I want to do this!”
Mo Farah (33), winner of the 5,000m and 10,000m gold two Olympics in a row, grew up in the war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia before moving to London. He originally had no interest in running (he wanted to play football) until his coach bribed him into it. After slacking off in the beginning, he made the decision that he wanted to be the best and then began training like no other distance runner. He went to Kenya to train with the great marathon runners, and then continued to train there over the years, even leaving his wife to go home alone after their honeymoon because he needed to get back to training. He eventually moved to the USA to continue training. He implemented crazy training techniques such as sprinting at high altitudes in order to increase lung capacity, underwater treadmills to build stamina, weight training to reduce bobbing arms, etc.
The Great Britain women’s hockey team won gold for the first time in their history at Rio. The players in a later interview talked about the intensive training that they had undergone over the past few years. Not content with the usual training regime, the coach doubled their training exercises for the week. In addition, the coach wanted to improve their ability to think well when exhausted, so every Thursday he would have them work out till they were practically collapsing from exhaustion and then he’d make them do tests and quizzes to improve mental sharpness. It paid off, as after a gruelling final went past extra time and into penalties, they scored all of their penalties, while their opponents missed three.
These few stories are just a tiny percentage of the stories that are out there. I could have looked at any athlete from any country and found a similar story there. Indeed, just a bit of study will throw up many more examples of hard work, of training, of pushing, of fighting, of going beyond exhaustion and going beyond pain to produce their best.
Every four years, the world takes notice of crowning moments and achievements—moments and achievements that were a lifetime in the making. The incredible dash, the world record finish, the mind-blowing feat—these all are the culmination of years of hard effort.
Muhammad Ali put it best: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
Your success too will be the result of your hard work and effort. All those nights with less sleep, all those hours spent at your desk, all those letters that you send out, all those people that you meet, all those times when you are tired, all those times that you get rejected, all those moments you feel like a failure, all those moments that you want to quit—those are what make you a champion.
One day, the world will sit back and applaud your success. And you alone will know the hundreds of hours of suffering that brought that success about. Your success will be the culmination of your effort, the synopsis of a life of dedication.
May that motivation push you through the difficulties of today. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a Champion!