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Traits of an Olympic champion revealed

AAP logoAAP 4/08/2016 Sarah Wiedersehn

There is nothing typical about the fortitude of an Olympic champion.

They are well beyond the archetype of us couch potatoes, who will watch their remarkable physical feats in Rio on the TV screen for the next fortnight.

So apart from the hours of training, what does it take psychologically to become a champion?

According to Australian psychologist Richard Keegan, from the University of Canberra's Research Institute for Sport and Exercise, there are some typical traits elite athletes share.

Here is a look at what enables an athlete to rise to the top:

* Resilience - champions have the ability to quickly adapt to challenges rather than being affected by them.

"Someone who's truly resilient will not only adapt but be stronger afterwards," Prof Keegan says.

They just get on with things despite a set-back.

"Most people when something bad happens will understandably go 'Oh this is terrible' but often there's something about the guys at the top who very quickly take it as factual and think about how they can respond, without much time to judge."

* Motivation and Focus - they don't get distracted and have the ability to maintain their internal passion despite the external rewards and punishments.

"Ordinary people are very much knocked off their stride by external prizes ... the elite guys won't be distracted if we suddenly say 'right if you can beat your time you'll get more money'. They'll carry on their correct pacing."

* Social - they are deeply connected to their trainers, physiotherapists, coaches and family. They have a strong social network. Everyone is in rich communication in benefit of the athlete.

"When you are trying to be the best in the world and you often have to be pretty brutal about getting results and then it's possible to undermine your social networks and damage social relationships, so the guys who seem to do very well somehow, either on purpose or otherwise, are maintaining a very strong supportive social network," Prof Keegan says.

* Unshakeable Confidence - champions have a confidence that comes from within, they don't just say positive things to themselves that aren't true.

They like and trust themselves, they know they are a good person regardless of the results.

"If it does boil down to a point where you're entire self-esteem depends on the result of a race that's when we start seeing problems like choking, suddenly you aren't thinking about what you are going to do, you are thinking about what it means and you haven't practised that way for the last 10 years," says Prof Keegan.

* Self Aware - they know where they need to improve and are proactive about achieving results. Prof Keegan says the athletes who drive their own ship are the ones who keep improving and eventually make it on the world stage.

"You can't be dependent on other people to determine your performance."

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