Sunday, 10 August 2008

Half a second

That's the combined amount of time that separated five British Gold medallists from second place in the last Olympics.

Half a second between 5! That's a lifetime of effort and 4 years of dreaming, boiled down to about a tenth of a second each.

How is it possible to cope with such pressure? The realisation that a tenth of a second separates you from fulfilling a dream and not.

In a fascinating programme last week Colin Jackson, the Olympic hurdler, talked about how he had failed in Barcelona (when favourite) but bounced back 4 years later to finally take gold.

In one experiment, he was shown harrowing images in an MRI scanner for two hours. Jackson's brain responses were telling. The parts of the brain that lit up were those assocuated not with pain, but pleasure. When asked why, Jackson had said that when he looked at the images he consciously thought how great his life was by comparison. He was able to see the positive in the negative.

People often talk about victory going to who wants it most. My bet is that when it comes to the pressure of a tenth of a second, glory goes to who is most able to cope. And those who cope are those who need to win least.

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