THE Olympic Games are a momentous occasion that usually takes place once every four years and is oftentimes defined as the pinnacle of any athlete’s career. An event where thousands of athletes from around the world, including our very own Trinbagonian athletes, compete in over 30 different sports for the prized gold medal and to be crowned champions.
The Olympics has a way of generating a buzz of excitement and pride for country, uniting communities, and societies globally. Whether you are an avid sports fan or simply enjoy the excitement that comes with the quadrennial Games there is an event for just about everyone.
At 7 am this morning many of us may have excitedly turned on our televisions to tune in to the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics, ready to applaud our 33-athlete strong contingent. While much of the pomp and circumstance may ring familiar these Games are certainly like no other, we the spectators and the competitors, have seen before.
With no family, friends or fans in the stands to limited social interaction and daily covid-19 testing the postponed 2020 Summer Olympics has morphed into somewhat of a fragmentary version of the competition we know and love. So, what does it take to prepare an athlete for such an event?
Speaking in more general terms of course and not specific to any one sport, the decision to pursue elite athleticism and to become an Olympian is certainly not one that is to be taken lightly. We may often hear parents, coaches and young aspiring athletes suggest that the dream is to become an elite performer, but what is sometimes overlooked is the required mental and physical demand, commitment, discipline, resilience, focus and sheer sacrifice to place that pursuit above all else in one’s life.
The four-year-long cycle preparing for any one Olympic Games, including that of qualification, can be gruelling and certainly takes a mental and physical toll on the athlete. The process to Olympic qualification for every sport is different, some athletes may be given multiple opportunities to qualify well in advance of the Olympics while others may qualify mere months or even one chance weeks before.
I have been privileged enough to work alongside and provide psychological support not only to athletes for The Olympic Games but also to officials and have gained much knowledge of the journey some of our Trinbagonian and wider Caribbean athletes must take. From working full-time jobs and incorporating their training alongside that, traversing the length and breadth of the country to ensure they attend their respective training sessions, working with limited equipment or within a limiting environment, to battling personal adversity and challenging family backgrounds.
Not only are we rich in raw talent but our athletes have a unique and often self-taught level of resilience and determination ingrained in them due to many of the obstacles they face before they are even required to perform. If we then look to some of the obstacles they may encounter throughout their 4-year-long preparation we might find recurring and/or long-term injury, arduous rehabilitation processes, burnout, fatigue, poor performances, fear of failure, low confidence, anxiety, lack of funding and the list goes on…
The crucial pillars, therefore, that may lend to the success of these athletes (and it should be noted these should be present for the entirety of the process) are:
- Effective physical and technical training including things such as (but not limited to) nutrition support, sport performance testing, strength and conditioning etc
- Sport/performance psychology
- Social support.
But we are aware that all Olympians are not made equal. So, over the next few weeks of competition when you are cheering on team TTO, be it in athletics, judo, swimming, rowing, cycling, boxing or sailing, be reminded that the greatness does not just come from the medal, but it comes from the ability of our very own homegrown athletes to be able to compete for the medal in the first place. They are already Olympians.