Addicted To Winning
When goalie Patrick Roy won hockey’s Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986, he said it added to his hunger for winning. There is no greater feeling than holding the Stanley Cup and knowing you have earned the right to hold it, he said. You do that once, and you want to do it again and again. And he did, contributing heavily to another Montreal win in 1993 and a championship with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
According to Cal Botterill, a sport psychologist who worked with Canadian national teams, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was so addicted to winning that he cheated to stay on top. Off the track, Johnson was a shy and insecure stutterer, some say sheltered from reality by his family and coaches, another impoverished child who used his body to climb to the top of the sports world. On the track, he became superman in the 100 meters, the most explosive sprinter of all time. His duels with Carl Lewis in the 1980s were classic confrontations as well as bitter personality duels.
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In the 1988 Olympics, Johnson flew down the runway to a world record but then it was revealed he had cheated by taking steroids, raising his testosterone levels to more than 10 times normal, and his gold medal was revoked. More than anything, I think that success was addictive to him, Botterill said. His whole life revolved around track and field and his whole identity is caught up in being a sports star.
Speaking of steroids, athletes who take large doses of steroids may risk addiction similar to narcotic abuse, doctors warned in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter told of a 23-year-old bodybuilder who could not stop taking anabolic steroids without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, depression, and disabling fatigue. The athlete said he sometimes felt uncontrollably violent, paranoid, and suicidal. After a week off steroids, he told doctors he couldn’t bear his depression, fatigue, and drug craving and intended to resume taking drugs.
Many athletes carry other obsessions or addictions around with them. In soccer, former Brazilian greats Gerson and Socrates smoked two to three packages of cigarettes a day. Other habits are less severe Pittsburgh Penguins hockey star Jaromir Jagr has been addicted to playing video games; former Olympic champion decathlete Daley Thompson was addicted to eating wine gums (candy); hockey great Wayne Gretzky was addicted to watching TV soap operas. And Sacramento Kings player Lionel Simmons missed two games from a sore wrist caused by too much Nintendo.
Not all driven athletes have problems in other areas of life, said clinical psychologist Ron Thompson, of Bloomington, Indiana. There’s a difference between being obsessive and being focused, he said. There’s a perfectionism that’s part of being an elite athlete. Some have the ability to channel their obsessiveness. It’s an adaptive type of obsessive-compulsiveness. They can adapt their obsessiveness in ways that are helpful to them and they can control it. Thompson believes that perfectionism is more related to low self-esteem rather than any other quality.
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