The final of the 200m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow was won, predictably, by the best sprinter the world has ever seen. But the man in the next lane was a 19-year-old, running in his first major final. During the introductions Adam Gemili was clearly exhilarated to be involved; his achievement guaranteed and his senses opened wide to absorb as much of the experience as he could. He was having the time of his life and running faster than he had ever run.

His place alongside Usain Bolt had been assured thanks to a semi-final victory in which he ran under 20 seconds for the first time in his life. Had he reproduced that time in the final he would have won a bronze medal. As it was, he was overjoyed to finish as the fifth fastest man in the world. And he also knew he could have done better.

To the untrained eye, sprinters coming down the home straight all look as though they are doing everything they possibly can, so, apart from at the very start, where can improvement be made? Michael Johnson, a truly phenomenal athlete in his time and someone whose insights into hard work and excellence can inspire everyone, gave his analysis of Gemili’s final 80 metres. This is is the essence of what he said:

As Bolt passes him you can see him tighten. He’s pushing hard to try and catch up, but he’s already going as fast as he can. What you need to do in that situation is relax.

Relax when you’re giving everything you have to give? It sounds counterintuitive but it’s the same across all sports: the more you can relax, the more effective you will be. Furthermore, everything which helps men and women to excel in sport is applicable to life. Karaj was always telling us to relax. At the time of writing, there are 658 posts on this blog and 216 of them contain the word relax. One phrase in particular which has always stayed with me from Karaj was, ‘You need to be able to stay calm in a crisis and pastime in an emergency.

It’s a difficult skill to master so don’t wait until you really need it. Practice every step of the way. Whatever you’re doing, however hard you are working or fighting, and however fast you are running, remind yourself to take what you can from the experience, remember to breathe and remember to relax.

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