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Sibling Rivalry

Strong drives can be formed in childhood less dramatically, according to Ken Dryden, who was the goalie for six Stanley Cup hockey championships with the Montreal Canadiens, author of two sports blogs, and is now president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dryden said his emotional drive was enhanced by trying to match up to his brother Dave, an all-star goalie in youth hockey, who was six years older than Ken.

Dave recalled Ken becoming very intense in road hockey battles near their home he became a perfectionist. Almost a daily contest in the summer would see Dave toss a ball up onto the sloping roof of their house and the two brothers would battle to see who could jump higher to catch it as it fell down.

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It wasn’t until he was 16 that he was finally able to out-hockey me for the ball, Dave laughed. Dave, too, made the NHL, but was considered just an average goalie while younger brother Ken made the Hall of Fame.

Sibling rivalry seems common in the background of elite athletes:

• The race for her three gold medals in the Seoul Olympics for American Janet Evans actually may have begun when she was a tot and jumped into a YMCA pool to join her older brothers who were taking lessons.

• The six Sutter brothers of Viking, Alberta, were not talented, but they drove one another to make the National Hockey League, which they all did.

• Salevaa Atisanoe (Konishiki) learned to fight among his eight siblings in Hawaii; then he grew up to be the world’s best sumo wrestler.

Tony Dorsett was a shy and introverted boy, but touch football foes motivated him by constantly comparing him to his talented siblings. You can’t even play the game, taunted an opponent in junior high school. You’re going to be the sorriest Dorsett of them all. Tony shot back: No, I won’t. I will prove you wrong.

Years later, after he’d won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player and become one of NFL’s all-time rushing leaders with nearly 13,000 yards, Dorsett reflected on those words in the schoolyard:

His comments triggered something in me. It wasn’t so much anger as motivation to do well. I think after that I became more focused, more driven to succeed at playing football.

Carl Lewis believes he may have received some of his long-lasting drive to become the best track star ever from trying to live up to his parents and his siblings. Being the loser in my family was so frustrating, recalled Lewis of his boyhood days in Willingboro, N.C. Lewis was the son of two talented athletes who became teachers and track and field coaches. Carl, the third of four children, used to sneak his mother’s track medals out of the house to use for neighborhood races. When their parents went to school to coach other children, they would leave Carl and his younger sister Carol in the long jump pit to play by themselves. That pit became our babysitter, Carl recalled. Carl was shy and tried to express himself through running and jumping, but he quickly found himself losing to the other brothers and sisters who became all-state or even all-American.

Even Carol crushed him in races. I was the runt of the family, the nonathlete, Carl said. I thought I was the one [without talent] for our family. When he entered official track meets against boys his own age, Carl lost. I became tired of losing. He persevered and at age 12 finally won a race, but his parents weren’t satisfied. They always treated us like adults . They were toughest on me, Carl said. At times I resented the way my parents worked me . they knew how much it hurt me to be the worst in the family, knew how much I wanted to succeed, and they spotted some talent in me before anyone else did. They thought if they pushed me, they could help me develop that talent.

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