Every Olympian has the natural ability to excel in his or her chosen sports.  However, that isn’t enough to medal in the Olympic Games, the world’s most competitive tournament.

 Most elite athletes will say they’ve spent hours and hours of training to become a top athlete.  They cite the support of parents or spouses, single-mindedness, and an overwhelming desire to reach a goal. When watching interviews of the Olympic medal winners it is apparent that other than their apparent natural abilities, there are really three aspects that stand out. 

Support is One Key to Success

Elite athletes usually surround themselves with a support network of inspiring, supportive people.  This network might include parents, other family members, friends, coaches, and sometimes, even a sports psychologist.  It is not unusual to hear stories of parents driving their children hundreds of miles to training centers; or even allowing their children to leave home to train in facilities that are out of the area or even the country.   Winners choose to surround themselves with people who are a source of inspiration, a barometer, a prod, and when needed, a comforter.

Olympians Need Focus to Win Olympic Medal;  photo courtesy of the United States Navy, Photographer: 1st Class Preston Keres, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: photo courtesy of the United States Navy- Photographer: 1st Class Preston Keres

For Olympians, there is also the need for financial support.  Most of the athletes who train for the Olympic Games, especially those who are first time Olympians, are athletes who do not have huge product endorsements; rather, they rely on the financial backing of local sponsors or their nations’ Olympic Committees, and in some cases, their own meager earnings. 

Dedication to the Sport is Characteristic of Winners

It is well documented that elite athletes spend long hours in training and cross training.  The average Olympian trains four to eight hours daily to maintain his or her high level of performance.  Most Olympians train at least six days per week with one day off; although many actually engage in some sort of less intensive activity on the seventh day.

These elite athletes make it a point to keep distractions to a minimum.  They use various techniques to keep their minds on their training and on their ultimate goals.  This may take the shape of forgoing what the average teen or young adult is experiencing including proms or burgers and fries at the local fast food joint.

These athletes are willing to make sacrifices few would even consider.  Pairs figure skater Yuko Kawaguchi is one example of an athlete making an extreme sacrifice for her dream.  With a burning desire to train under Tamara Moskvina, a former Russian figure skater who now coaches, Kawaguchi left her home in Japan and traveled to the United States where she won Moskvina over.  That in itself is not so unusual.  What is unusual is what Kawaguchi gave up to achieve her goal to skate on Olympic ice.[3] 

With Moskvina moving back to Russia and finding few prospects for a pairs partner in Japan; Kawaguchi moved to Russia and partnered with Alexander Smirnov.  In order to compete in the Olympics, Kawaguchi had to make a very difficult decision.  She had to give up her citizenship in Japan because her home country does not allow dual citizenship.  She became a Russian citizen in order to keep her Olympic hopes alive.[3]   

Mental Strength is a Must to Reach the Podium

Perhaps overlooked by the average person, mental strength is needed for an athlete to perform at the highest level required in Olympics.   Muscles burn under intense physical competition and all else being equal; it comes down to what the athletes tell themselves that eventually determines whether they win or lose.  Most athletes will say the routine, the positive thoughts and ability to stay focused is what got them across the finish line in first place.[1]  

Most athletes hit a road block or two along the way; some seek the assistance from a sports psychologist; others use their support group to stay or get back on track.  Announcers often say an athlete has lost their focus when an athlete appears to lose their way.   This focus requires strength of mind to concentrate totally on the task at hand and ignore yelling crowds, competitors or other distractions.

Olympians know what it takes to be at the top of their sports.  They know their bodies and abilities; they ensure maximum performance by training, practicing, eating and resting to maintain their bodies’ highest efficiencies; and keeping their minds strong and focused.  All of these are needed to stand on the middle podium with a gold medal hanging around their necks, salute their flags, and listen while their national anthems are played.


 The copyright of the article What it Takes for Athletes to Become Olympians is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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