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Just over a month to go and the excitement is set to soar… As London 2012’s competitors prepare for their moment on the world’s stage, High Life’s columnist says it’s all about keeping a cool head when the pressure is on
It's just a matter of weeks to go now until the Olympic and Paralympic Games and more than ever the spotlight will be on the athletes. The media will want interviews, there will be sponsorship requirements to fulfil and lots of other distractions, but it's important for them to focus on what they've been training for all this time — to be the best athlete they can be.
Management teams and coaches will be in battle, with coaches wanting to keep the athletes as relaxed as possible and to ensure rest days are exactly that. I remember my coach for the Sydney Olympic Games, Charles van Commenee, being very strict during this period — there was no compromising.
By this stage athletes know that they have qualified, so with that concern out of their minds, it's really about adding the finishing touches to performance, sharpening technique, focusing on speed, and maintaining good discipline rather than trying anything new. Training starts to slowly taper off, but it's all about confidence building and demonstrating to yourself what you can do. You want to feel fresh, dynamic and alert — and the mental side of things is key. There are only so many hours in a week to train. The final ten per cent of performance is about what's going on in your head.
Everyone has different coping strategies and ways to stay calm. I started doing jigsaw puzzles. When I went to Sydney I took a giant puzzle of Van Gogh's flowers, with thousands of pieces, it was a great way to engage and stimulate my brain and focus on something else in the quietness of my room.
Some people like games, others like to read, but everyone needs to find something that works for them. It's a very intense time, an ongoing battle to stay relaxed as the pressure increases. Most of the athletes will be preparing at the BOA Holding Camp away from the home environment, which is crucial as the big day gets closer. As much as family can be a great support, you need to take yourself into the zone where you know it's still business and there's a job to be done. Team GB will have the home advantage — feeling everyone is behind you boosts your confidence — but you must remain calm.
So my advice to all those competing would be to embrace the situation and although at times you may feel completely consumed by the excitement and anticipation, you must find quiet moments to switch off, relax your mind and find the right balance — no matter how hard that might seem.
Read more: Denise Lewis on inspiring young athletes and her memories of the Games.