Editorial: Reaching the top is not the hard part

Tue, Oct 30, 2012 - Page 8

Top athletes are subjected to huge amounts of pressure over sustained periods of time. It is how the truly great cope with this pressure that sets them apart from other top athletes. Yani Tseng (曾雅妮), currently the world’s No. 1 woman golfer, and Lance Armstrong, who has just been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, are both world class athletes, and have both been top in their respective fields. However, they chose very different courses in how they dealt with the extreme levels of pressure they were subjected to. As a result, history will record their achievements in very different ways.

Armstrong was formerly a legend in the world of competitive cycling. He did not give up the sport even when diagnosed with testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France an astonishing seven times, a record that is going to be tough to beat. The story of his battle against cancer has been an inspiration to untold numbers of cancer sufferers and he set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer support to help others fight the disease. His sporting achievements and his humanitarian work were truly something to be proud of and he was widely regarded as one of the greats in the history of professional sports.

Yet, for all his speed, Armstrong could never quite escape allegations of illegal doping and the US Anti-Doping Agency refused to give up its investigation into those allegations.

The agency finally proved that he had been involved in doping, leading to the International Cycling Union’s decision to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him for life. Armstrong made the wrong choice and as a result has seen a lifetime of hard work and achievement turn to dust.

By contrast, Tseng has been through a tumultuous year, in both her personal life and career. She started the year well, winning a succession of Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) titles. However, over the past four months, she had seemed like a different person. She competed to defend her top ranking, but failed to make the cut, let alone come in the top 10, in many tournaments. She still holds the title of world No. 1, but the smile had faded from her face.

Tseng concedes that her recent low ebb had been due to the isolation one feels at the top. She had become preoccupied with performance, winning, keeping her No. 1 ranking and with what other people thought of her. All of this has been a huge drag on her game. When she did not do well, she was full of self-recrimination. Because of all this, for the past four months, she spent her days playing golf and her nights wondering where it had all gone wrong.

However, Tseng could not be kept down for long. She pulled herself out of the doldrums and is now less fixated on winning. She has rediscovered her passion for the sport and said she feels that the “old Yani is back.”

She only managed third place in last weekend’s Sunrise LPGA Championship in Taoyuan, but she feels she has come out of her low point and is now far more optimistic.

Tseng and Armstrong are two world-class athletes who dealt with the pressure of being at the top. Armstrong surrendered to the temptation of performance-enhancing drugs. At first, these helped him achieve almost impossible feats, but in the end his achievements have dissolved into thin air. Tseng grappled with her demons and persevered using her own strength, telling herself to push on and overcome the psychological barriers she encountered. Now she can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The worst is behind her and she is better able to face the challenges ahead.