Turning failure into success: the Olympian’s view

I want you to imagine coming down a huge ramp….. hearing over 100,000 people cheering and seeing thousands of GB flags flying but you can’t make out any faces…
That is what I experienced at my first Olympic games representing GB for hockey in Atlanta USA.

We have all seen some brilliant sport in Rio this summer. But how did all the athletes get there in the first place? Their success has come about after years and years of dedication and focus and support. Most trained for years and years whilst some picked up the sport more recently. The common theme is effort, strength of character and at times sheer determination to succeed.
You go through times in life when you do nothing else but train, work, eat, sleep, repeated over and over during weeks, months and years.

During the week the alarm rang in my ears at 5 a.m. to go training, then stick and ball practice for hockey every lunch time, and finally in the evening for club or individual sessions. Dedication!
My first GB trip was to New Zealand in 1991, a year ahead of Barcelona Olympics 1992. Selection time arrived but did I make it to the team? No, I didn’t. We were all asked to enter a room, we all sat waiting to be told whether or not we were selected. My name was not read out. I was absolutely devastated but afterwards I asked myself Do I give up and forget all about my dreams or do I work even harder?

I started training with a Men’s team. It was tough but exactly what I needed to break the comfort zone and dig deeper than ever before. It made such a difference but I was never told I was not good enough – the men were supportive of both my performance and effort. Katherine Grainger CBE is a British rower and, with five Olympic medals, Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian. Did she ever think she could not succeed? I doubt it.

All my hard work paid off in Atlanta but the experience was really tough. The heat and humidity were unreal but we were well prepared, having trained in Aberdeen’s heat chambers. Not exactly high tech, this was just a grey box room, 8 x 6, with an urn and a heater with 3 bikes. How times have changed!

Every Olympian has hundreds of stories from their own unique experiences. For me, leaving my 14 month old baby daughter behind to go to the Sydney Olympics was a huge decision but I had the help I needed in the support of my husband, David, and our families. The most amazing moment was walking out as Captain of the GB team versus Australia in Sydney. That’s when I knew all the work, commitment and dedication had paid off.

Did the knock-back of Barcelona impact my success? Yes, definitely. I wanted more and without that set back I am not convinced I would have carried on so long in my career. Failure is a natural part of life, from learning to walk and beginning to talk to becoming an International athlete, we can use disappointment as an opportunity to learn. During all my talks to young and old alike I say Set out your goals, know what you want to do in life and follow your dreams – why not?


Pauline Stott is a former double Olympian and Director of Sport at Kilgraston School. In 2016 she was awarded an MBE for services to Hockey and Sport in Scotland.

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