THE PROFILE of a WINNER:
INTERVIEW with an OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST
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
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.
"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.