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Ben Hunt-Davis

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The three attributes of champions


What differentiates Olympic medallists from their 8th place finisher counterparts? Are they faster, stronger or physiologically ‘better’? Not according to Olympic Gold medallist Ben Hunt-Davis.

Olympic champions possess three key attributes. They each have the ability to:

  • Focus on the goal
  • Continuously strive to improve and challenge how they do things
  • Work with others

The head of British rowing used to measure the rower’s ability based on eight physiological measures. For example, speed over 2000m, VO2max and explosive strength. The 4-boat in Sydney (the one where Sir Steve Redgrave won his 5th Gold) each achieved the targets for all of the eight criteria. The two- each just about made all eight argets. My boat, the 8+, achieved eight targets too...between the whole crew.

So it was simple. We didn’t have the eight best rowers in the world (physiologically speaking), so we had to call upon something else. Fortunately for us, because we either possessed or developed the three key attributes above, that didn’t matter. We were still able to achieve our goal.

Focus on the goal

Being crystal clear on the goal, working out what was in it for us and aligning all of our efforts gave us the best chance of success. Our one central question was always ‘will it make the boat go faster?’. What’s more important, being right, or making the boat go faster? Everything came down to making the boat go faster, because that’s what we needed to do to achieve our goal of olympic gold.

Continuous improvement and challenging how we did things

Our crew developed a learning culture, a culture of testing and challenging all we set out to do. In 1998 in the World Cup Cologne Regatta we came 7th so we had a long way to go to move up the ranks and put ourselves in contention to win that Gold in 2000. We constantly experimented and challenged how we did things, always questioning ‘is this the best way?’ and of course, ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’. We didn’t just challenge how we did things though, but also actually what we did. For many years we were under the wrong assumption that we could row. Well of course we could row, we'd competed in the World Championships and the Olympics. But in 1998 we started off again and focused on the tiniest details to make sure we could row better. What could you improve? Changes can be hard and for me and the whole crew it was uncomfortable, but ultimately we made the boat go faster- so surely it was worth it?

Working with others

Using the resources around us was essential to our development. If you know what you want to achieve, then ask the question: whose help do you need to achieve it? Every Olympian will agree, as was highlighted so many times on Sports Personality of the Year 2012, it’s not just about them, but the team they have around them, the support from family, friends as well as their coaches and sport science support. To reach your best, you need to work with those around you. In your team have you ever had the opportunity to help someone, but didn’t? Tried to prove someone else wrong? Most of us have, but is that really helpful? They are on your team, even if you don’t like them you still have to trust and respect them because if you want to win, they have to win too, and if they lose, of course you will lose too. It’s that simple. So help your team out, it’s going to help you achieve your goals too!

How do people achieve great things? Many do have a unique gift, but for most of us, we’ll only get so far without incredible focus, continuous improvement and the ability to work extremely well with others. Next time you set yourself a goal, maybe you could consider the three characteristics of Olympic champions.

Ben Hunt-Davis is an Olympic Gold medallist, motivational speaker and co-author of the best-selling book ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’.


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