My sister was kind enough to give me her recent edition of Time magazine. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a summer Olympic special with the fabulous Lolo Jones on the cover. Right under the title reads, “Four Years After an Epic Stumble, Lolo Jones is Back for Gold.” I imagine Lolo has been waiting for her day of redemption since that moment when she clipped the ninth hurdle, four years ago in Beijing. Here is the video of her going from 1st to 7th in 12.72 seconds….
The article on Lolo discusses the very real and very unfortunate phenomenon of choking. Choking is the “failure of an athlete or an athletic team to win a game or tournament when the player or team had been strongly favored to win or had squandered a large lead in the late stages of the event.” It can be said that Lolo choked at the biggest race of her career. She was favored to win but she finished 7th.
Athletes under stress choke when too many thoughts flood the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses informational memory. Worry, and the brain becomes too busy. It’s a misallocation of resources. The motor cortex, which controls the planning and execution of movements, should be doing most of the work for experienced athletes.
In other words, you shouldn’t be thinking or analyzing what you’re doing. Your brain should be relying on muscle memory to get you through the event. Studies have shown that athletes who start to think about the details of what they are doing, tend to mess up more often than those who do not.
I highly doubt that I’ll come face-to-face with choking anytime soon, mainly because I will never be strongly favored to win a race (unless of course it’s a small event in my home town). However, I think it’s very interesting to learn that when we start thinking too much and stop letting the body do what it has been trained to do, we start messing up.
I wish all the best to Lolo at the Olympics. Her story of homelessness to Olympian, demonstrate beyond measure what it takes to be a great athlete. Her dedication, commitment, hard work, failures, successes, and endless drive will hopefully lead her to the gold medal that she has trained so hard for. Go Lolo, Go!!
Happy Trails and Happy Running,