by Cristina Bortoni Versari, Ph.D.

Surrounded by an environment with limited resources, in a family of six children, Joaquim Cruz wanted to be "somebody," someone important who would make a difference. He didn't know what kind of person, but he knew it would be someone with an important name.

He started playing basketball at a local community center at age twelve. Soon a physical education instructor saw him and started persuading Joaquim to join the track team.

"I did not want to run," said Cruz, " I liked basketball, I was enjoying playing and running did not seem that much fun." Gradually the coach was able to get Joaquim started...that was the beginning of a golden career.

He won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics and the Olympic record, a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics, a gold medal in the 1987 Pan American games, first rank in the world by Track and Field in 800 and 1000 meters in 1984/1985, NCAA Champion in the 800 and 1500 meters, leading the University of Oregon to the NCAA Team Title in 1984. He started his career with the Junior World record in the 800 meters in Brazil in 1981, his latest victory was in the 1995 Pan American Games with a gold medal in the 1500 meters and the Pan American record with 3:40:26. The South America representative in the Athlete's Commission for the International Athletic Federation since 1989, Cruz is currently training for the 1996 Olympics.

Under the same coach for the last twenty years, Joaquim Cruz has received international recognition for his accomplishments in track and field. As an Olympian he knows what it takes to reach great success in track and in life. During an exclusive interview for Self-Help & Psychology Magazine Joaquim Cruz talked about his successful career and described the characteristics necessary to be a winner.


What are the characteristics that you have which led you to a successful career in sport?


Being able to enjoy training sessions, dedication, patience, long-term goals, and persistence.


What is the key to success?


Dedication, the more you practice the better you get. Also the level of emotion you put into what you do. The intensity of your emotions and the ability to transform your feelings. For example, when you watch a horror movie the images are so vivid that it stays with you, in your mind, for a long time. The athlete needs to learn to change his feelings transforming pain into intense emotion. If you can do this once, elevating your emotions to a different level, it will stay with you and you can do it again.

Very few have the ability to change pain into a positive intense emotion. You must also learn to do something different than the rest. There are a lot of people running...millions of people are doing that, so you need to be able to do something different and become better than the rest.


What is the downside of being an elite athlete of your caliber?


An elite level athlete has inborn characteristics, you avoid parties and drinking from an early age, you select your friends and learn to spend time with yourself. You manage your time in a certain way and spend more time alone than socializing. Therefore there aren't many negative aspects to adjust to because you already have a different lifestyle. However when you decide to become a champion you need to be prepared to be treated as a champion, so these are some things to keep in mind:

Everything you do and say will be perceived and evaluated by others, the public, the media, etc. Your role in the family changes, and you need to learn to deal with the demands of being a champion. When you reach the level you want , you'll tend to believe that "you can do anything." Consequently you can loose your motivation to continue to train hard and end up in a difficult place, not able to recover your peak performance level. You need to be able to stabilize, physically and emotionally so you won't loose your ability to continue winning. Otherwise you can destroy your athletic career.


What is the profile of an Olympic level runner?


1- Self confident and timid at the same time. He wants to be the center of attention and at the same time he hides, he avoids people, doesn't mingle, he disappears. I am able to understand it because I have seen both sides. When the athlete is at his best he avoids the crowd because they are not doing well. They tend to focus on what is negative such as "the food is not good. " The athlete who is well prepared focuses on what is really important, and tends to shy away in order to maintain his self confidence.

2- Respects the opponents in the sense that they are as important as he is in the competition.

3-He is not afraid of or intimidated by the presence of other good athletes in the race; he sees it as a challenge which will help him run better.

4-Doesn't talk much; he knows that he's going to run his best, but he doesn't talk about it.

When asked, "what is your advice to those who want to become an athlete at the Olympic level?" Joaquim said: "We are responsible for our actions, you are what you informed your mind you wanted to be. If you want to limit your mind..that's what you're going to become and you will have limited results. Focus on what you want."

Joaquim Cruz has qualified for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and is presently competing in Europe/South America.. He resides in San Diego and is a regular speaker on panels and seminars on Olympic athletes. He is an active member of the Athlete's Commission for the International Athletic Federation, working to protect the Olympic athletes' interests.

He received his Bachelors Degree in Physical Education last June from Point Loma Nazarene College and coaches track at a local high School. He also coaches elite athletes in San Diego.

After the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Joaquim , his wife and son are planning on spending some time in Brazil. He wants to give his son an opportunity to learn more about his culture and visit the country where it all began.


Cristina B. Versari, Ph.D. is a sport psychology and career consultant specializing in performance enhancement, career and life planning, and team building. She counseled professional athletes from 13 NBA teams in the areas of career and education, and was the psychologist for the Brazilian Men's Basketball Team for the 1992 Olympics and 1994 World Championship of Basketball. She is the president of the National Sports Counseling Network and a seminar speaker. Dr Versari has been studying the personality profile of elite athletes and designing training programs for peak performance for over ten years.

For information on training programs or consulting, she can be reached at: phone and fax (619) 658 0204, or P.O. BOX 22961, San Diego, California, 92122.


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