As the Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro, one wonders what drives athletes to excel, especially those devoted to individual, non-team sports. No doubt, most have natural talents that were recognized at an early age and then nurtured and encouraged by parents and coaches over the years. The thrill of personal achievement surely kept them engaged and their innate perseverance allowed them to hone their skill while colleagues became distracted, discouraged or disinterested.
A minority may have achieved Olympic status due to less wholesome factors in their lives. Some represent the "projects" of zealous parents who prodded their dedication to sport, shielding them from other childhood interests along the way; in such cases, the child athlete is often living out the failed dreams of the parent. Then there are young athletes who use their natural physical skills to escape a troubled home life, to counter the ridicule of other children or to hide personal inadequacies that have diminished their self-esteem.
Whatever their motivation, those of us less-gifted (and/or less devoted to sport) admire their skills and dedication. Many root for the underdogs while others (myself included) want to see the best athletes take home the gold (see Rooting for Champions).