What makes a winner?
Zoe Thurz | 27 March 2017

1) It's all in the mind

As a relatively amateur sportsperson, I would consider that 'getting in the zone' involves focusing on tactics before a match rather than what I would like for dinner, however, some elite athletes are now using neuro-feedback to help them concentrate. This technique involves placing electrodes on their head to measure the brain's electrical activity. This information is then displayed on a screen, allowing them to learn how to control their mental state and therefore alter it. This means athletes can consciously put their brain into a state which is associated with improved attention, focus and aim. Although this technique is quite new into the world of elite sport, it has already seen results in improving the skills of actors and musicians.


2) Thank your parents

The Brownlee brothers have become household names this summer, taking both gold and bronze medals in the Olympic men's triathlon. It is not purely down to luck that they were both talented (and obviously trained hard), but also a 'winning genome'. Although no one has pinned down the exact range of genetic characteristics which make up an Olympian, genetic traits such as height, strength, agility and coordination are key to success in numerous sports.


3) Controlling your dreams

Nightmares can put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day, not the best way for an athlete to wake up on the morning of the biggest race of their life. Mental strength is just as important, if not more so, than physical strength - a bad mood could lead directly to crossing the line last. So how can nightmares be prevented if enjoyable dreams could provide the extra boost needed to win? Lucid dreaming is the state between wake and sleep where you become aware that you are dreaming whilst still in the dream. When in this state it is possible to influence your dreams. In the 1970s, out of twelve American Olympic gymnast hopefuls, the six that made it onto the team all said that they dreamt of success beforehand.


4) Breakfast -- the most important meal of the day

Over the past 107 years, since the first modern Olympics, athlete's diets have changed considerably. Back in 1896, their diets were based on the cultural norm at the time: red meat washed down with plenty of red wine. An athlete's diet has now evolved from protein-based to carbohydrate-based to optimise their performance. In Athens 1896, athletes ate eggs, cheese and olives for breakfast. In London 2012, only the eggs remained. Athletes now eat a breakfast of whole-grain cereal, reduced fat milk, eggs and bacon. On top of this, all the food in London 2012 was labelled so athletes knew exactly how much protein, carbohydrates and fat they were eating.


5) Age -- We all have a limit

Most people will peak in their mid to late 20's depending on their sport, however, as always there are exceptions. Oscar Swahn has the record for being the oldest Olympian, having won a silver medal in shooting in the 1920 games at the age of 72. He is an anomaly. The average age for male 100m gold medal winners is 22.8 years; male marathon winners, 27.8 years; and 400m freestyle swimmers, 19.9 years. This is because not only does the muscle a person has reduce in amount as they age, but also the muscle itself starts to change. Muscle can either be a fast-twitch type (useful for bursts of power) or slow-twitch (useful for endurance activities). As people age, some muscle will change from fast to slow twitch, explaining why often younger people tend to be better at sprints, while an extra few years is often beneficial for marathon runners -- there maybe hope for us all yet!

James Routledge 2016