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My running is missing the Olympics!

It's been a week now since the Olympic closing ceremony and I think I'm having withdrawal symptoms. The news and television has gone back to the doom and gloom of all that is bad in the world and, as a result, I swear I've lost a bit of the spring in my step in my training sessions. Can that really be the case? Does watching our Olympic superstars perform and get the very best out of themselves inspire me to do the same?

It has been argued that elite sport drives participation and participation drives elite sport. There is a theory that lots of people practising sport at the base lead to a few Olympic champions and, at the same time, the existence of champion role models encourages lots of people to take up sport. There are questions, however, around this ‘virtuous cycle of sport’ and whether there is any concrete evidence for it.

 

On the other hand, there seem to be few that would deny that elite sport provides us with a ‘feelgood’ factor. Many of us feel proud and enjoy watching elite sports men and women representing our country and achieving great things on the international stage. Speaking on the Today programme, on BBC Radio 4, at the start of this Olympics, Mark England (Team GB Team Manager) spoke of “the swell of euphoria as the GB team got off to a reasonably good start” at the London 2012 Olympic Games and how it “drove a nation that was really behind the British team”. Lucy Winkett, the Rector of St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, referred to this recording when she spoke, on the same programme, the following day. She declared that watching Usain Bolt does not induce a desire for her to jog around the park but she is able to take inspiration from people who have learnt not to be afraid to try and not to be afraid to fail as she pointed out that, what we witness in the efforts of Olympians, is a training process that has taught athletes to fail before they succeed. By role modelling such strength of character, our superstars in sport are surely bringing benefit to the majority of the population who are inspired in some way, whether it is to participate in sport or to work hard in other pursuits.

 

Perhaps it depends on whether you are already a runner and whether you are on an upward trajectory, in terms of performance as to whether you take inspiration to work hard to achieve your full potential or whether you simply feel proud. Our superstar athletes provide us with examples of how they have been inspired by the event and by others to work hard towards their Olympic dreams:

“It means so much to me I can’t believe I did it. I dreamed of being Olympic champion once, when I was young watching Haile (Gebrselassie) and (Paul) Tergat in Sydney and then I did it in London and that was incredible. And then four years later to do it again – there’s no words to really describe it." Mo Farah after the 2016 5000m.

"If you think about 20 years of going out in the cold and dark and just believing that one day you are going to make it here – that’s how much it means to me now. My main goal was to be part of the Olympics and I made that – but you always want to come out and perform and I think I did myself proud today." Sonia Samuels speaking after the 2016 Olypmic Marathon

They are also inspirational to each other. After the 5,000m final, Andrew Butchart spoke of Mo as a huge inspiration for him. Mo's performances may be unreachable for us but Andrew is lining up in the same races, sitting next to him on the bus and can see him more as an 'upward comparison' than a far-off idol. He can use him to visualise his future in the sport and for the evidence of what he may also be capable of achieving.

Lockwood and Kunda (1997) support the ideology that elite performers (or role models) can inspire and were likely to be effective when they were considered to be relevant and had attainable qualities: "The superstar illustrates the wonderful heights of accomplishment one can hope to achieve, encourages and motivates one to strive for this now all the more palpable success, indicates particular goals to aim for along the way, points to the road one should follow to achieve them, and makes one feel more competent and capable of such achievement." (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997. p. 93).

And what about Mo, who is at the top of the tree? He is inspired by the heroes that he grew up watching but he is also now inspired to make others feel proud:

 "For me, one of the things that keeps me going is winning medals for my country and making my nation proud.” Mo Farah after the 2016 Olympic 10,000m

I don't know how great or small the impact is on the nation to get into sport, as a result of watching the Olympics, but I do know I am looking forward to watching the Paralympics for more inspiration and I will be at any 'Welcome Home' parade that happens because I need to thank our superstars for the spring they put in my step!

 

References

 

BBC Radio 4. (2016). The most day for Team GB at a foreign games. In J. Humphrys (Ed.), Today. BBC iPlayer: BBC.

 

Grix, J., & Carmichael, F. (2012). Why do governments invest in elite sports? A polemic. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 4(1), 73 - 90.

 

Lockwood, P., & Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and Me: Predicting the Impact of Role Models on Self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 91 - 103.