What was Usain Bolt’s biggest threat at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games? Was it Tyson Gay, then reigning world champion in the 100m and 200m? Asafa Powell, whose world record Bolt had broken barely 3 weeks before the Games, perhaps? While Gay and Powell were both identified as strong opponents that Bolt had to overcome in order to become Olympic Champion, finding suitable food turned out to be a vital concern that almost toppled his Olympic quest before the race had been run.

Life is Complex

The life of a competitive athlete is complex. “You’ve prepared all your life for a chance to perform on the world’s grandest sporting stage, and finally, you have your chance. After travelling across the world to a foreign country, however, you realize that the upcoming competition is far from the only thing on your mind. Rowdy athletes in the Village who stay up late partying, unfamiliar food, homesickness and even the distraction of being among some of the fittest and best-looking athletes in the world are all factors that can potentially crush an athlete’s Olympic dream,” commented Dr. Don Murray of the Sports Conflict Institute. Usain Bolt stated in his biography that he “struggled to squeeze into the shower” in Osaka, Japan during the 2007 World Championships and “did not eat well for a few days” when in Beijing, China for the 2008 Olympics, because he found Chinese food “odd”. Importantly, Bolt eventually found a substitute food – Chicken McNuggets, the diet which fueled him to two world records in the 100m and 200m.

Challenge Is Not Just For Olympians

Such challenges apply not only to Olympic athletes, but across all levels of competition. Seemingly trivial factors such as logistics, social media and even sexual opportunities have the potential to disrupt rest, nutrition, and state of mind – ruining an athlete’s campaign at a major Games before he even reaches the starting line. Said Singapore national 10,000m record holder Rui Yong Soh, “When I travel to a foreign environment, there is a great deal of stress in the form of unfamiliar food and living conditions. When I travelled to Vietnam for a regional competition in 2008, four of my teammates fell sick before the competition even began due to sweltering heat and unusual food. Spectators do not quite see this aspect of the sport, but there are many external factors an athlete has to deal with when travelling for competitions. If you don’t travel well, you won’t perform well.”

Strains of the Games

It is these very challenges that drove the development of the Strains of the Games tool by Dr. Murray. “The Olympics, or any competitive athletic event, are a time of intense pressure, excitement, and recognition, along with the sheer excitement of competing on the world stage. All athletes look for ways to best prepare for that kind of pressure. Strains of the Games serves as a mental rehearsal for what might happen, by looking ahead and anticipating the future. Aside from the competition itself, there are a host of activities, events, and distractions an athlete will face. Strains of the Games helps athletes, coaches, officials, and other stakeholders to identify the potential challenges which athletes face heading into a major Games, and prepare for these potholes accordingly.”

IAAF World Junior Championships

Strains of the Games is being used in preparing global ambassadors charged with supporting athletes competing in the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon July 22-27, 2014. “With athletes coming from nearly 180 different countries, there are so many threats to competitive success. We’ve been working with students from the University of Oregon who will be ambassadors to these talented athletes in helping them understand the many stressors that competitors will face to go well beyond the heat of competition itself. This understanding by athletes, coaches, and supporters is critical to ensuring that distractions don’t become the determining factor in who medals and who doesn’t,” noted Joshua Gordon, founder of SCI.

About SCI

SCI supports competitive goals in athletics through understanding, preventing, and resolving destructive conflicts that occur both inside and outside the lines. SCI serves as a resource center and provides a range of services to help manage risk and optimize athletic performance. Conflict is inevitable, but how we respond determines whether success follows or costs mount.

SCI supports organizational and individual goals through education, research, and service focusing on sports conflict. Closely connecting classroom learning to real world problems challenges the value of abstract theories and ensures their relevance in a rapidly changing world.

For more information, please visit https://www.sportsconflict.org