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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Why did Nick Willis fail to fire during the Final of the London Olympics 1500m?

Too many distractions: Click on the image above
to view the video.
Here I am, sitting in Wellington about to make some observations as to why Kiwi runner, Nick Willis, failed to perform up to pre-race expectations in the final of the Olympic 1500m.  Risky!  But here we go...

I think there are three factors that may have been at work: Too much extracurricular activity, running on empty and being in one of the classiest bunches of runners ever assembled.

 I'll comment on the first two - the last needs no comment.

Extracurricular activity

If you are the owner of a thorough-bred race horse contesting the Melbourne Cup, you sure would not be show-ponying it all over the place during the weeks and days leading up to the biggest race of its short career.  Race horses, like Olympians, are highly-strung creatures.  They are easily thrown off their game by the slightest of upsets (Shot-putter, Valerie Adams, is a good example:  Discovering, to her horror, that she was not on the starting list less than 24 hours before her event and going on to under perform).

High performance creatures need routine.  They need quiet time.  They need to focus.  They need rest.  Nothing at all must be allowed to disturb, or upset them. Their adrenals need to build reserve capacity - not to be emptied during the days before they must produce the most high-octane burst of biological energy possible.

In Willis's case, was he asked to do too much leading up to his race? Flag-bearer for the NZ team, countless interviews and appearances.  Was there too much pressing of the flesh, too many luncheons and too many speeches?  The overt pressures of the growing expectations of a nation were clearly placed on his thin, though athletic shoulders.  Did he have enough quiet time? From the outside, looking in, this appeared not to be the case.

How often and for how long was he able to close the door and chill out without being interrupted?  How often and for how long was he sitting and standing about at receptions, shaking hands?  It looked like there was a lot of that going on.

An athlete needs to be resting physically and mentally when not training?  Focusing on what really matters - winning the Big Race.

My sister, Lorraine, taught me this:  When an athlete is not actually training or competing, she should be snoring away, having a good feed, stretching, or having therapy, like a good massage.

I am sure Willis was carefully managed; but were there some things that could have been done better - Things that can be done better next time?

Running on Empty

Time and time again, almost without exception, when we do a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis of an elite athlete, we discover a number of nutrient imbalances - Indicating that they are close to running on empty and have varying degrees of adrenal exhaustion.  What I mean by this is the athlete simply has not the nutrients inside them to fuel sustained high performance.  We also discover that their glandular systems are less than optimum.  This may be exacerbated by an excess of some nutrients that ends up creating a relative deficiency between nutrients.  There may even be interference with sensitive biochemical processes by medications as seemingly innocuous as an oral contraceptive, IUD or implant.

An athlete must have strong, vigorous glands - not exhausted ones

While Nick Willis is supported by some of the best sports medicine talent available, he displayed some tell-tale physical signs of adrenal exhaustion in the weeks leading up to this day, such as slightly sunken eyes (Often incorrectly attributed to just being thin).  Sure he reported feeling great in the days leading up to the Big Day; but I wonder just how much reserve was there actually sitting in the tank?  A full tank, half a tank, or just about empty?  Without the right testing, nobody can tell until the tank suddenly becomes empty.

High performance athletes are poised on a knife edge.  The slightest slip and they fall into exhaustion, injury, or both.  A part-empty tank may explain, in part, why he failed to fully recover after the semis and why his legs did not have anything left in them once the hammer went down towards the end of the race.

Here is an article about this matter of athlete exhaustion:
Another related article:
And this: "Hero to Zero" in a single race for this former international cyclist:

We need Sir Patrick Hogan

When the inevitable High Performance Review Committee is convened to analyse where and why we went right and where and why we went wrong, I nominate Sir Patrick Hogan as a Special Consultant to the Committee.

"As a man who built an empire from the grass roots of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry, Sir Patrick Hogan is rightfully regarded as the King of "down under" horse breeding.
For 30 years Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan's Cambridge Stud has ruled the roost as the number one nursery for thoroughbred champions in Australasia."

We can learn a lot from the horse breeding and racing industry and Sir Patrick is the Man.  

What's good for the horses is good for our athletes.
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The advice in these articles is given freely without promise or obligation.  Its all about giving you and your family the tools and information to take control of your health and fitness.


Anonymous said...

Read your interesting and intriguing article on Nick Willis re his games performance. Nick has been a frequent topic of conversation at our dinner table over recent weeks and we were getting excited about his prospects. After his NZ record breaking run about 3 weeks ago and his celebration afterwards he seemed to be seeking every media opportunity available and especially social media to let everyone know how confident he was, and that his momentum was building at exactly the right time.
I'm not on twitter but the feeds come through to Facebook and he seemed to be pretty constantly making updates. To the point that I saw a thread about this on which was quite scathing of him. The last Fb post I saw he was apologising to family and friends for maxing out his allowable friends on Fb so not everybody could follow him. By the time the games came around I had this hypothesis that he was purposely doing this to spook the Kenyans, being over the top about how confident he was. Looking at the heats of the 1500 it seemed to be working. Kiprop had looked better running 3.28 than Nick looked running 3.30 yet in the heats every Kenyan looked vulnerable. In the final Nick looked good to 300 out but by 250 out looked like he had stopped trying to win. As you describe it, the tank was empty. Damn.

Gary Moller said...

Damn! Is the Word. Now its time for a short breather, figure out how to do better - regroup and kick onwards and upwards.

Thomas said...

The great Arthur Lydiard once commented that many kiwi athletes over-think the occassion & run the race many times over in their minds the night before competing, thus leaving themselves drained both mentally & physically come the race & I believe Nick may have been a casulty of this scenario...I really also believe that Nick due to his personality type would be an over-thinker & also prone to pre-race anxiety maybe more than some.
I've also heard that he has some sort of obsession with lactic acid, maybe he should forget about that & focus more on red blood corpuscles.