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Christmas Day training, Daley Thompson and the path to glory

 “I train twice on Christmas Day because I know the others aren’t training at all. It gives me two extra days.” — Daley Thompson.

When ordinary people are asked to think of Christmas Day, they may think of the gifts, the festive music or the family time. They may even think of the food and alcohol. But they probably wouldn’t think of athletic training.

However, this is the reality for athletes in the modern age as the quest for greatness does not lend itself to the same holiday break as ordinary people. But athletes are not ordinary people.

Daley Thompson is one person who helped to re-write the rulebook for athletes. The former decathlete was renowned for his competitive edge and dedication to athletics — this is what earned him his title of double Olympic champion. He claimed consecutive gold medals at the Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 games.

Thompson inspired athletes around the world when he revealed his Christmas Day training schedule. His festive programme was designed to give him an advantage over opponents, especially as this came during an era where it was still unheard of to train on a day usually reserved for celebratory indulgence.

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Thompson, however, was exceptionally driven to succeed. It is said that he trained on Christmas morning before heading home for dinner and he would then return to practice. His overtly committed approach helped usher in a generation of sportspeople who have now normalised the idea of Christmas Day training.

As athletes constantly strive to be the best, sporting standards are higher than ever before and the margin between success and failure is wafer-thin. So there can never be such a thing as too much practice. For in the age of the super-athlete, relentless training is considered to be the bare minimum.

In fact, Christmas Day training in itself may not even be enough anymore. Now, athletes are looking to make extra gains further afield, in wide-ranging domains such as sports science, tactical analysis and psychology.

This desire for success also has the capacity to spill over the top, as revealed through the plethora of doping cases to have plagued athletics of late. It is accepted that every athlete trains vigorously hard, so some choose to achieve their edge through illegal means. The use of technologies to exploit grey areas in doping laws not only reveals the capability of new sciences, but also exposes the all-consuming necessity of success to these athletes.

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However, other athletes sensibly avoid such erroneous routes to success. Psychology now holds great prominence in the sporting arena as a way of helping athletes, and the concept of Christmas Day training is tightly bound up in this.

The gains made on the day itself are naturally minor, but the mere act of undertaking any form of training can contribute to the construction of an athlete’s superiority complex. This is crucial to success as even giving the perception of an edge can go a long way.

This is not to say that every athlete will be out training on December 25th, as some wisely choose to routinely coincide it with a rest day. But the rise of the Christmas Day athlete has certainly gathered pace since Daley Thompson’s initial proclamation in the 1980s.

So while you tuck into Christmas dinner this year, think that there are still athletes at running tracks and gyms working towards their dreams. After all, they could be a double Olympic champion one day.

Featured photograph/Brian Bacher/Pixabay

Benjamin Lang
Ben, 21, is the Sports Gazette’s resident Welshman. He arrives at St Mary’s University after graduating from the University of Exeter with a degree in English Literature. During his time in the South-West, he was heavily involved in student media and was most recently Station Manager of the university’s radio station, Xpression FM. He developed a fondness for Exeter City over his three years as an undergraduate, which culminated with him working as a Match Day Media Assistant for the club during his final year. Ben’s first love is football and is a long-term season ticket holder at Swansea City. He also takes a keen interest in tennis and cricket, with a growing attraction to golf and athletics.
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