What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

What is this ephemeral substance that has made our athletes in Team GB a success? Not only with Olympic medals at previous games, but throughout the sporting calendar.

Adam Peaty, the first British swimmer since 1988 to win a gold medal at the Olympics, and break his own world record in the 100m breast-stroke was terrified of water when he was a child. Besides the fear of water, what was it that made him challenge the very thing he feared the most?

We have a Kenyan who technically is British, who is one of the best athletes the 21st century has ever seen with three Tour de France wins in four years. He is the first British, and eighth athlete to win three Tours, and joins cycling legends Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jaques Anquetil, and Miguel Indurian in the list of all time greatest cyclists. Chris Froome didn’t even win a gold medal, but he is still one of the greatest athletes of this century so far.

The Brownlee Brothers
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee. Photo by: zoonyzoozoodazoo_Flickr

Jessica Ennis-Hill, a mother and wife, and a British legend of heptathlon. With Katarina Johnson-Thompson following closely behind. Ennis-hill left the sport to have her son not long after London 2012, returned to athletics and won silver all in the space of four years, while her competitors trained tirelessly throughout.

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, two triathlon legends have World Championship titles and four Olympic medals between them in the space of four years is incredible. Alistair is the first person ever in the sport to defend his gold medal. In running alone, Mo Farah’s winning 10km time in Rio this year was 27:05:17, while Alistair’s 10km run in the triathlon was around about 32 minutes on top of an unpleasant sea swim, and gruelling bike ride that along with having no domestique requires talent and some serious effort.

Mo Farah, known as another unbeatable British legend, winner of the 5,000m and 10,000m even after falling over.

Chrissie Wellington. She’s no Olympian, but she is one of the most successful female triathletes of all time. Wellington entered the professional scene with a bang from grass roots, with no sponsorship, a race kit she bought the day before the race, and nobody knowing her name.

Photo by: chrsjc_flickr
Laura Trott, the most successful British female athlete. Photo by: chrsjc_flickr

The golden couple Jason Kenny and Laura Trott who won 10 gold medals between them. Trott who is now the most successful British female Olympian. Need I say more?

Then there the non Brits, but stars in their own right: Usain Bolt who won the triple treble in Rio this year. Michael Phelps, along with his good looks is argued to be the best Olympian ever with 18 gold medals, and 22 Olympic medals in total.

So what makes our greatest athletes? Aside from the Olympics – the legacy of which has altered – the blood, sweat, tears, fear, support from those closest, drive to be successful, drive to prove others wrong, feeding off failure and the desire to do something with excellence. All for the moments of glory, crossing the finish line, standing on the podium, and wearing the yellow jersey.

All of those athletes mentioned have all of the above. Although Froome’s mother isn’t around anymore, she remains to be his biggest supporter and biggest believer in his achievements. When Froome jumped over so many hurdles to get where he is now, when there were no cycling facilities, equipment or coaches in Nairobi. The Kenyan government stopped him many of times from entering races, and would not support him to represent the country. Many commentators, coaches, managers, and team mates told him he would never make it as a professional cyclist because of his body composition, his elbows sticking out, his clumsiness and his politeness. He defied everyone who did not believe he could make it, and now he is one of the most successful cyclists of all time, whose elbows still stick out, and he is renowned as being one of the most polite and well-manured men in the peloton.

Anybody can be an athlete if they work hard enough for it, believe in themselves and defy anybody who tells them otherwise. As the world of triathlon has proved, body composition makes no difference in sport.

Jodie Swallow is repeatedly bullied for her body composition, but she still has many world titles in Ironman, Ironman 70.3, and ITU. She is one of the most dedicated, motivated and talented triathletes in the professional scene.

What makes our athletes great is the drive to achieve and become the best, the fear of failure and losing, the dedication to a sport you can love and hate at the same time. The desire to be motivated every single day to prove other people wrong, and to prove to yourself that anything is possible…

All of these athletes started out with a passion to achieve, and nothing more than basic equipment. If the medals are removed, they are no superior to you and I. But the difference is their mentality to achieve something, others will not.


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