What makes a great Olympic athlete?

By Alana Leabeater

Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science student, University of Technology Sydney


Everyone knows that to be an Olympian, you need to be
physically and mentally fit.

You need to achieve the highest level of performance by
being the quickest, strongest, most enduring, or a combination of all three.

But what other, lesser-known qualities can lead an
athlete to Olympic stardom?



Eric Moussambani was a swimmer in the 2000 Olympics who
had never seen a 50m pool in his life. A wildcard entry into the Games, Eric
was the only swimmer in his heat after his competitors were disqualified for
false starts.

With only eight months training under his belt, the crowd
rallied behind Eric – later to be called ‘Eric the Eel’ – as he dog paddled to
the finish, a lone figure in the Olympic pool.

Eric may not have fit into the standard description of a
great Olympic athlete, but his perseverance and determination earned him a
special place in Olympic history.


Usain Bolt is one of the world’s most well-known athletes,
and while that may be because of his dominance in athletics, it also comes down
to his light-hearted, personable nature that makes him relatable to the
everyday person.

And, it certainly makes him an athlete of choice for big brands
like Puma, Virgin Media and Visa.


Photo: drcliffordchoi
on Flickr

Without sponsorship, athletes have very few options to
earn a living without working a job as well, which adds extra pressure to their
already busy schedules.

Bolt’s charismatic personality has not only brought him
enough income to never have to work a day in his life again, it has also
brought the fun back to athletics after the sport’s reputation took a hit withnumerous
doping scandals.

It has also made him the household name of the century
across the globe.


Surya Bonaly was a French figure skater who consistently
placed second at world championships, despite what many felt were perfect
presentations on the ice.

In her last Winter Olympics, Bonaly was injured but knew
this was her last chance to make a name for herself on the world stage, so she
performed an illegal backflip on the ice, landing on one skate.

The breathtaking move earned her a deduction from her
points, but ensured she would be remembered as a daring and adventurous athlete
for years to come.


This year’s Australian flag bearer, Anna Meares, a track
cyclist, is one such athlete who has shown great tenacity throughout her
Olympic career.

In January 2008, Meares suffered a horrific crash at the
World Cup where she broke her neck and dislocated her shoulder.

Despite this, she was back on the bike 10 days later and
was able to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, where she finished second in the
sprint to Briton Victoria Pendleton.

Four years later, Meares again faced Pendleton in the
final of the 2012 Olympics and came home with the gold.

Many athletes would have retired from the sport after a
crash like Meares’, but she used this bad experience to fuel her recovery and
return to form.


While the Olympics may appear to be a contest of
physical fitness, this is not always the case; sometimes it is an athlete’s intrinsic qualities that
immortalise them in the record books.

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