To become an Olympic champion in a kayak, Ian Ferguson had to also be a master of the mind.


New Zealands most successful Olympian winning five medals in five Olympic campaigns Ferguson thrived on the challenge of competition, on and off the water.


Youre not racing their body, youre racing their mind, Ferguson, now 63, says. 


Ferguson prides himself on never having missed a training session; even on a bad day, he would push himself through, knowing that his rivals might not be training.


Sport is a mental game - not just when youre racing, but in training as well. You train to be a winner, to understand your body, and how far you can push yourself, he says. I believed I could win, and I expected to win. You have to play the game.


The two-time world champion also learned to hurt. The best athletes, he says, have to be able to delve deep into their hurt box.


Bad athletes are too scared to go in, or they stay at the top of their hurt box. Good athletes will go right down to the bottom. You have to understand pain as just a feeling in your brain; people cant describe pain when they recall it. I was happy to hurt.


Ferguson first competed at an Olympics in Montreal in 1976, and was one of four New Zealand athletes who defied the western boycott to race at the 1980 Moscow games.  Those early days werent easy financially: There was no money, so you had to do everything yourself. It was a matter of survival.


Using the tool of self-belief, he learned practical skills how to build houses, to weld and do electrical wiring. Its developing a can-do attitude. Why pay someone else to do the wiring when I can do it? he says.


Endurance was also crucial to Ferguson, who won an astonishing three golds in two days on Lake Casitas at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.


You need endurance to train hard. Its 90% of the job. For quick races, you train over longer distances two-hour paddles so that when you come to race day, the distance makes it seem easy.


You want to control your body and stop it from making shortcuts. So after your body has been paddling for two hours it doesnt stop doing the small things right its all automated. Endurance is about going the maximum speed longer than the next person.


Age was never a factor in Fergusons career. At 36, he was still at the pinnacle of his sport, winning gold and silver at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and made the finals in his events at his fifth Olympics - the Barcelona games four years later.


He never wanted to quit the sport, retiring only when selectors wanted a younger New Zealand team.  The secret to his longevity was dedication, self-belief and loving the sport and the lifestyle that came with it. I enjoyed it, he says, and I never let it rule my life.



Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Summer Games Ian Ferguson
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