Changing China

Giant on the move

Do injuries make you insane?

June 6, 2008

Balazs Koranyi was a semi-finallist in the 800 metres at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games and will cover the Beijing Games for Reuters.  

For an athlete, the Olympics are a bigger gamble than putting money on the zero at a roulette table. And when you take a big gamble, you’re bound to do dumb things.

I read recently about marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who was hobbling on crutches at the time, talking about coming back from a stress fracture for Beijing. It made me wonder why normally bright, rational people do insane things when it comes to the Olympics.

I was in a similar situation eight years ago, though not quite at the same level. I had just collected an indoor European bronze medal in the 800 metres and had every expectation of making the final at the Sydney Games. So, I pushed and pushed myself HUNGARIAN KORANYI WINS 800M RACE AT JAPAN GRAND PRIX IN OSAKA.until something broke. Well tore, actually. It was my calf.

I had time to heal, rest and train again but even the thought of letting up on my dream drove me near insane. I couldn’t rest. I had spent a decade preparing for my date with destiny.

So I pushed and pushed more, despite the pain. I spent 2 hours a day practising and 22 hours putting myself back together for the next practice. The pain was excruciating. I limped everywhere. I skipped friends, I skipped going to the movies because it hurt too much to get out of the house.

What I had not counted on was the emotional toll of being in pain.  When it hurts, you hate the world and have no friends. The burden is all on you and you’re mad at world for not sharing your misery.

Training for the Olympics are about walking the fine line between health and injury, or to be more precise, between minor and major injury. You have no choice but to push your body to the breaking point and inevitably, sometimes you push too hard. Top athletes develop an awesome ability to override the body’s warning signs and not even know where edge is.

So I pushed some more. As I tried to protect the injured leg, I strained the healthy one and tore a foot muscle. The pain was worse but again, there was no time to stop.

In the end, I got to the Olympic semi-finals but ran an unspectacular race as my mind and body just couldn’t give more.

Even in hindsight, I’m reluctant to say I’d do anyhing differently. The Olympics are a gamble and unless you risk big, you won’t win big.

Picture of Balazs Koranyi (in yellow) on his way to victory in the 800 metres at the Osaka Grand Prix in 1999 by REUTERS/Eriko Sugita

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