First published in Spring 2010.
By John Godina
When athletes begin the pursuit of their Olympic Dream today, there are many aspects of training and preparation to consider in their pursuit of excellence. At the top of the list for almost every sport is the preparation of the mind. Without the proper mindset, the best athletes have no way to distinguish themselves from their competitors. This mental preparation is often times much more difficult because of the looming presence of doping that can cloud some sports.
Take, for example, my experience in a sport that may have been one of the most-heavily entrenched bastions for doping in sport – the shot put. In the early 1990’s, before the advancement of drug testing methodologies and protocols that would eventually lead to a much cleaner sport, the shot put could best be described as a free-for-all. Everyone in the sport knew the score and everyone accepted doping as a necessary training and preparation tactic. My challenge was not whether to partake in the circle of doping that encompassed the sport, but how to take over the sport from the outside while being under-armed for battle.
With an admitted physical inferiority due to the “nutrition” of my competitors, I knew that I had to have a game plan that included overcoming their physical superiority with mental strength. The first step along the way was for me to mentally establish my position on doping, and to make it as clear, concise and non-modifiable, as possible. It turned out that I would enter the Olympic Arena with a three-sentence coat of arms that, although it may not have done much for my results, was everything I needed to shield my psyche from the wavering insecurities that had forced most of the clean athletes I had known in the sport to quit. Those three sentences were: I will compete clean. Almost none of my competitors will compete clean. Whatever happens, happens.
With this clearly defined mandate in hand I would set off into the badlands of world-class throwing and hope for the best. Strangely enough, “Whatever happens, happens” – the most passive portion of my mandate – turned out to be the most relevant because things most certainly did happen. Drug testing got better and more targeted, and through the timeline of my career, I saw more than 30 competitors test positive. I lost many medals to athletes who, either before or after they medaled, tested positive, but I also was able to win nine major championship medals… more than any other shot putter in history. The point is not that I won medals. The point is that because of my convictions and dedication to my three-sentence mandate, it would not have mattered if I had never won medals. The ethical divide between me and the status quo of the sport would have been trophy enough.
I had always told myself when I competed that I won because of mental strength. Looking back, I now know that while my mind strengthened my body, my moral convictions were the rock that stabilized my mind. Calm, centered, and free from internal conflict, I was able to focus, succeed, and walk away without having compromised myself.
John Godina is a two-time Olympic medalist and four-time World Champion in the Shot Put. He is owner of and coach at the World Throws Center, which is in Mesa, AZ. Godina is a former TrueSport Athlete Ambassador.