How mental strength took Olympians to gold

Local Olympians share their winning mental strength tips. 

To help you get your head in the game and start the new year mentally strong, determined and confident, Under Armour shares these top tips from two of SA’s Olympic heroes:


One split second prevented her from earning her place in the Olympic record books in Rio 2016, but that didn’t stop Tatjana Schoenmaker. The 24-year-old South African swimming sensation came back stronger than ever in Tokyo 2021 and earned South Africa’s first gold medal, smashing the 200m breaststroke world record! What are her ingredients for success? Consistency, dedication and staying grounded.

“Consistency is key, I’ve been swimming professionally since I was 14 years old which included up to 11 training sessions a week, so from a very early age I understood the importance of working hard and doing so consistently,” says Schoenmaker. “You need to dedicate your life to your discipline; it requires continuous mental grit. It’s easy to get lost in the moment, when you’re performing on the world stage.”

Looking back, the Olympic gold medalist says the setback in 2016 has, in many ways, proved to be a blessing in disguise. “It forced me to train even harder and to take the necessary steps to preserve my mental strength. Staying grounded and focused was a massive contributing factor to the recent success achieved at the Games. My goal with every swim is to always focus on me, my technique, not getting ahead of myself and staying in a healthy headspace. It takes a lot of discipline to keep a level head, I’ve been blessed with a supportive team guiding me over the last five years”.


When Ntando Mahlangu had both legs amputated, leaving him in a wheelchair, in 2010, he flexed his mental grit and decided to not only move again, but to excel where most able-bodied men couldn’t. Today, the 19-year-old double amputee emerged as the standout star of South Africa’s Paralympics team in Tokyo bringing home two gold medals, first in the men’s T63 long jump with a world record breaking leap of 7.17m and then the T61 200m title with a time of 23.59 seconds to complete a memorable grand double. He says, mental strength gave him the power to come this far.

“The ability for me to harness my metal strength is critical to my performance. Mentally I need to not only focus on my time, the start and when to peak, but to overcome and shut out any outside factors that may hinder my focus,” says Mahlangu. “Overcoming challenges requires a deeper sense of oneself and the ability to sharpen your mind can be the difference between a gold or silver. You need to believe, once you take that step forward, you can focus on actively achieving your goals.

“For me as a double amputee, there is so much planning required not only to prepare for the big race, but to conquer life. Taking everything that I’ve learned in the months leading up to the games to extend my peak and making sure that I am in the correct frame of mind to perform, was certainly what helped me achieve the success that I did in Tokyo”.

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