Genetics and events conspired to present Steve with not just a career, but a life. He woke up every day with a cup of tea and large bowl of Shreddies and ate it standing in the kitchen before the first rowing outing of the day. This is followed by breakfast — a vast bowl of porridge workout and half a loaf of jam — and the start of a day of training and eating (reaching 6000 calories per day).
In competition, Steve used a mask of nonchalance to appear invincible to rivals. The Romanians believed the British would be world champions, and thus they were. By his fourth gold medal in Sydney, he let up in one famous TV quote “Anyone sees me go anywhere near a boat, you’ve got my permission to shoot me.” The initial emotion of winning was relief — job done — not elation, that came later.
When diabetes hit, the challenge became completing a single stroke, not 20 km. Ian Gallen took him through the practical side of treating diabetes and improved his outlook “Yes, you have diabetes, but I see no reason why it should stop you achieving your dream in three years‘ time in Sydney.” His coach, Jurgen had maintained a degree of distance to remain independent (so that all the rowers could trust him) but commented that though he had total respect that Steve finished every session.
If you were to ask him if he would do it again, he would, even if the results weren’t guaranteed. “It was a privilege. It was a quest. It was a challenge. And I’ve always been inspired by a challenge.”
John Naber recomposed by breaking down his swimming goal into an improvement of one twelve-hundredth of a second every hour. The hard part was that this blink of an eye improvement is an incredibly difficult commitment to maintain for four solid years.
Oscar Pistorius told children at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester “I’m not disabled, I just don’t have any legs.“
Jonny Wilkinson is remembered for the one kick in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final that earned England the title of champions. However, it was an act committed on automatic pilot after years of concentrated training.
Emil Zapotek believed “It is at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.” He turned up at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and shockingly won the 5 km and 10 km races. Then he entered his first marathon and won it by a clear half mile. “I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me, but it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known.” He gave record breaker (but Olympic failure) Ron Clarke one of his Helsinki medals as a gesture of recognition.
Eric the Eel was a no-hoper Olympic swimmer from Kuwait who arrived to a standing ovation, finishing the 100 m qualifier first after much struggle and with the other competitors disqualified.
Baron de Coubertin came up with the idea of the Olympics to overcome political and religious differences between the nations, while inspiring youth to great deeds and higher learning — “I shall burnish a flabby and cramped youth, its body and its character, by sport.” His famous pronouncement is heard at every Olympic Games: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
Sir Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile under 4 minutes. In the act he “had a moment of mixed joy and anguish, when my mind took over. It raced well ahead of my body and drew my body compellingly forward. I felt that the moment of a lifetime had come. There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim. The world seemed to stand still or did not exist. The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under my feet. The tape meant finality — extinction perhaps.”
Jesse Owens symbolised the power of truth over propaganda — a black man turning Hitler’s monstrous racism into a visible lie.
Carl Lewis beat age, gravity, history, logic and the world at a rocking Olympic Stadium in Atlanta to win the Olympic gold medal in the long jump.