Re­act log­i­cally, rather than emo­tion­ally, to per­form to your po­ten­tial

Men's Fitness - - Features -

Maybe the best ex­am­ple of learned re­silience was Chris Hoy’s first ever gold, in the kilo at Athens 2004. The kilo is four solo laps of the 250m Olympic velo­drome, against the clock. The rid­ers are ranked and they ride in re­verse or­der, the low­est-ranked rid­ing first, the high­est last. In the­ory, the times should im­prove through­out the com­pe­ti­tion, which means that the ten­sion rises for the last of the rid­ers, the favourites, as they en­dure the wait to per­form, watch­ing their ri­vals to see ex­actly how fast they need to be. As the pres­sure on the later rid­ers builds, the drama can be ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

To un­der­stand what hap­pened in Athens you need to go back to the world track cham­pi­onships in Stuttgart in 2003. Hoy was the de­fend­ing world cham­pion, the favourite, the last to ride. With Hoy watch­ing, Ste­fan Nimke of Ger­many posted a sea-level world record. In a ra­tio­nal frame of mind, Hoy would have con­cluded the fol­low­ing: this is a fast track and it is warm in the velo­drome; that is why Nimke went so fast. In­stead, un­der the pres­sure of the mo­ment, Hoy de­cided the best re­sponse was to change the game­plan he’d worked on for weeks and months. In­stead, he at­tacked hard from the start of the race to, in his words, “blow it to pieces”. He started fast but couldn’t sus­tain it and failed to get a medal.

Hoy had a year to en­sure that it wouldn’t hap­pen again at the Olympics. That’s when he started work­ing with Steve Peters, the team psy­chi­a­trist. Peters wanted Hoy to learn to con­trol the part of his brain that flooded his mind with emo­tional thoughts. Emo­tions are ir­ra­tional. Peters trained Hoy to switch off that part of the brain and, in­stead, to en­gage the part that deals in logic. “In a nut­shell,” Peters ex­plained, “you’ve got to switch from us­ing one part of your brain to an­other. You learn the skill of con­trol­ling that. That’s what Chris did.”


On 20th Au­gust 2004, two hours be­fore the Olympic fi­nal, Peters went through a last men­tal dress re­hearsal with Hoy. And Hoy would need it. The fi­nal could not have pre­sented him with a greater test of his new skills and men­tal dis­ci­pline. The fi­nal came down to a fa­mil­iar group of five rid­ers. Hoy would go last. He de­scribed him­self as “a kit­ten try­ing to act like a lion”.

First of the five was Aus­tralia’s Shane Kelly – who went into first place by post­ing an Olympic record. Next was Nimke, who bet­tered Kelly’s time. Theo Bos, the Dutch­man, then failed to beat Nimke’s time. The last rider be­fore Hoy was France’s Ar­naud Tour­nant, who had messed up in a sim­i­lar way to Hoy at Syd­ney 2000 and was look­ing to set straight what he had done – and he did go faster than Nimke. So that was three world records in suc­ces­sion. Three rides to play with Hoy’s mind.

This time, Hoy stuck to the plan. He thought: it’s a fast track, we have perfect warm con­di­tions and I have trained for a world record too.

He had trained him­self to be re­silient. So he did get his world record. He did win his gold.

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