The making of champions

Self-portrait of the artist

In an earlier blog article, I posted a press interview of three legendary athletes in track and field: Carl Lewis, Mike Powell, and Willie Banks. These champions had come as volunteers to the Tohoku region to inspire young Japanese athletes, some victims of the March 11 earthquake, in the World Record Camps.

What these champions have in common with anyone who succeeds to greatness are three factors:




It does not matter whether you excel in athletics, business, art, construction work, or any other field, as in the artistry of an excellent bespoke tailor.

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Champions all have raw talent, or potential, and they work exceptionally hard to maximize their potential. When you witness greatness, a champion runner or a super sales person, a star tango dancer or incredible portrait artist, it is easy to underestimate the effort made to achieve excellence. But nothing great comes easily, no matter how much potential a person has. And there is always the factor of luck—being in the right place at the right time—that influences success.

Mike Tyson represents an example of a champion fighter—arguably among the very best in boxing history —who never maximized his awesome potential. When Cus D’Amato, his coach and (adopted) father died, Tyson took a step backward, falling under the bad influence of Don King and others who allegedly defrauded him of as much as $100 million. In 1990 I watched a 3rd rate fighter (“Buster” Douglas) KO an overweight and undertrained Tyson in Tokyo, taking his title. As well as watch Tyson seven years later bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear in another championship match. Tyson had reverted to his street thug past.

Raw talent or potential, whether it is physical agility or IQ, whether it is analytical power or leadership, can be thought up as a reservoir. Some have more than others and some with less than others become champions at whatever they do by making more effort, working harder.

Life is replete with examples of famous and not-so-well-known people who achieve extraordinary greatness though their persistence, determination, and “sweat,” maximizing their potential. My favorite example is Fauja Singh, a centenarian of Indian descent. He completed a 10K in the Hong Kong marathon this February just ahead of his 102nd birthday and holds the world’s record in his age group  for a full marathon (5:40, Toronto ’03). He ran his first full marathon, at the age of 89, to help him through the grieving process after he lost his wife and a son. Fauja Singh is fond of saying that he values two  things in life: to give to others and to stay healthy. Many of his running events are for charity and he exercises daily.

In this summer holiday period, it’s befitting to think about the road you’ve traveled and the road ahead of you. It can be as bright as you make it through your strong  effort.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier
©2013 Warren J. Devalier