WHAT is sporting success and how should we measure it? 

Should it be defined by what the athlete perceives is success to them?

Or by what the wider community thinks it is?  

Much of the talk around the Winter Olympics was about the lack of medals Team GB won.

I was saddened to read comments about athletes ‘not performing’.

In some cases these comments were not very nice.  

Even the greatest female skier of all time Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t escape a barrage of negative attention after she struggled to find her usual skiing that has seen her win three Olympic medals - two golds and a silver - not to mention six world championship golds and three overall World Cup titles.  

Shiffrin left without a medal.

Clearly this is not aligned with her goals and perception of success. 

However, she didn’t need the world to tell her that.

She knows that it wasn’t her best skiing, but this needs to be put into perspective. 

No one died, it was a few races where things just didn’t come together, and it shouldn’t define her career. 

I understand why so much in sport is aimed at the Olympics. 

It only occurs once every four years, and some athletes might only get one chance.  

But I feel sad when I see incredible athletes describe themselves as a joke like Shiffrin did after her results in Beijing. 

Remember these athletes are humans first of all - and like any human are impacted by life. 

Shiffrin’s dad died two years ago and the expectations going into these games were higher than ever before, not just from Shiffrin herself but from everyone around her. 

Of course, high performance sport is a tough environment.

The athletes choose to be there, it is what they do.

But could sports do more to look after the human behind the athlete?  

As part of my Masters in psychology, I have been looking more into the wellbeing structures in place to help athletes flourish in their chosen sport - whether they stand on a podium or not.

And I’m saddened to report this doesn’t really exist in UK sports, even after Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson led a review into athlete welfare in 2017.  

What also was a concern for me was reading and listening to Elise Christie talk about her relationship with both speed skating and the Olympics during Beijing. 

Despite everything she had gone through after the Olympics she hadn’t been given clinical psychology support from her NGB.

Surely this is something that we could be doing better?  

Or is our need to win so bad that just making an Olympic team is now not good enough?  

As the world focused on Norway’s medal success and asked how such a small country could produce so many medal winning athletes, the simple formula was they have a joy for sport policy, and they encourage all their citizens to enjoy sport with no early specification or even national championships for Under-13s. 

Their philosophy is about developing humans not just athletes. Is this something we are missing here in the UK? 

Should we spread the funding more evenly across sports rather than giving sports such as Cycling and Rowing vast sums of money? 

What is important in this question is that the athletes don’t often see this money. 

They benefit from the support services but the funding they get can be very low for a non-medal winning athlete. 

Yet these athletes are then expected to win Olympic medals - which in turn defines their success.   

When I was with Rowing, I got £200 a month until I won a medal.

I was expected to move to the GB base and train full time whilst living on £200 a month.

It was clear that sport measured my success on medals alone.  

Now, of course this was my choice - to compete and be an athlete and don’t think I am complaining.

I only want to highlight that if an athlete is not winning medals, then they are likely not getting much of those big numbers you see in the media from UK sport funding. 

So, are we developing the human? Or putting pressure on our youngsters to perceive success only in winning? 

I don’t know an athlete who doesn’t want to win, every athlete I know trains with an intent to go out and deliver a personal best performance every time. 

However, there are only three medals and some days it just doesn’t go your way. 

The margins in top sport are also very narrow.

People see a 13th place and don’t always look to see that athlete was only 4 tenths of a second off a medal in a field over maybe 60 of the best athletes in the world.  

Can you imagine being in the top 20 in the world at what you do and people telling you that you’re rubbish and a failure?  

I was proud of all our winter athletes, from our medal winning curlers to the athletes who went out in the first rounds. 

They are all Olympians and great examples to the youngsters of our country of what can be achieved with hard work and focus.