Winning an Olympic medal is never easy, and every athlete who makes a final to be in contention for a medal will have worked hard to get there through selection events, qualifying rounds and semi-finals.  Watching the 2012 canoe slalom qualifying heats over the last two days, I’ve been reminded that that for many athletes the psychological challenge of qualifying is tougher than competing for a medal.  These athletes are in a serious, future-oriented state of mind, in which they become more focused on the consequences of failing than on the rewards of success. They experience competition as trial to be overcome, a pass or fail situation.  Pass and they get to compete again, fail and they go home early.  So at best paddlers raced conservatively to secure a good enough result, at worst they tightened up with anxiety and under-performed.

Qualifying is a real test of mastery motivation – the ability to stay confident and committed regardless of the consequences.  When mastery motivation stays strong it’s easier to execute with full commitment.

It will be fascinating to watch the competition unfold.  I predict that it will actually get easier for some paddlers to produce their best runs.  With nothing to lose and everything to gain, they will find that state of mind when execution becomes almost effortless, their attention will be completely in the moment, attending to each stroke without a thought for the end result.  And with the quality of athletes we have in the field, this promises some brilliant racing. Bring it on!

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