What It Takes: The Agony of Victory

March 30, 2008 at 5:22 am 1 comment

A while back I came across Newsweek‘s Fast Chat with Steve Friedman, author of the book The Agony of Victory.

In the book, Friedman examines “the dark nights of the soul of elite athletes” to shed light on the mental state of athletic champions.

He says that many elite athletes “succeed in their sports because of a yarning hole in their lives. These are people who felt a lack in their lives that only athletics could fill.”

On the other hand, athletes who enjoy their success, “people who seemed perfectly content and happy … tended not to be champions.”

Reading about Friedman’s book reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a buddy of mine. This friend was born and raised in a poor African village. He represented the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and is representing his native African country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“The school I attended when I was a little kid was miles from my home and the only way to get there was on foot,” he told me.

“My friends and I — we always ran to school, but we raced to get home.

“During the first few years of primary school, I could keep-up with the older kids, but I could never beat them.

“And there was a girl — an overweight girl! — who always seemed to win. My goal, every day, was to beat her home. But I never could.”Then one day, I ran harder than I ever had previously run. And I got home before she did.

“I was happy I beat her, but I as soon as I stopped running I was doubled-over in pain.

“My stomach hurt — it felt like it was all knotted — and I was coughing-up blood. I had run so hard that I was coughing-up blood!

“I still have that metallic taste of blood in my throat. And now, every time I race, my goal is to run so hard that I cough-up blood again.

“This mindset is how I got to the Olympics. I want to hurt myself when I run.”

The agony of victory, indeed.

Play, think…

J.R. Atwood

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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