The Twelve Core Psychological Characteristics of Olympians

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.

~ Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born in 1940 in Tennessee. Before she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympic game, she was a sickly child. She overcame polio, and even wore a brace on her left leg.  

The Olympics are far more than the glory of sport and athleticism—they are a testament to human potential fulfilled. With every Olympic games, athletes’ stories about what it took to get there never fail to inspire. Consider figure skater Adam Rippon, who just won a bronze medal in the current games. He lived in his coach’s basement and ate more than his fair share of apples courtesy of his gym because he was short on money.  

But what does it take to become an Olympic champion? Given the level of excellence in this most rarefied group, it is a question that fascinates. Thankfully, it is a line of inquiry that has been taken up by Daniel Gould of the University of South Carolina at Greensboro and his collaborators. More specifically, they were interested in the psychological characteristics of Olympic athletes. To that end, they designed a study to reveal just what it takes, psychologically speaking, to become an Olympian.  

So here’s what the investigators did. They recruited 10 U.S. Olympic champions (six men and four women) who…

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