The path to Olympic gold isn't just in the physical training. There's a large mental component, too. Think about slalom racers skiing down a mountainside. They're flying along at extremely high speeds (around 80 miles per hour/130 kilometers per hour or more), aiming to successfully pass through every gate. It's critical to remember where each of those gates is positioned [source: Berliner].
Or consider bobsledders. They absolutely need to know where those turns are. A good memory can mean a second, or even a tenth of a second, saved. It doesn't sound like much, but at this level of competition, it can be the difference between gold and bronze, or a place off the podium altogether.
It's not just memory. Psychological preparation is imperative as well. Olympians need to be in the zone if they want to cross the finish line first. During a competition, athletes often have to give the reins over to their bodies -- trusting in their training and in themselves. The time for analysis is over. The time to perform is now. They need to clear their minds and banish any feelings of doubt or fear.
Strong personal motivation is also critical; without that drive, many promising athletes wouldn't attain their top potential. And then there's the self-discipline. Olympic-level athletes must adhere to strict lifestyle regimens that many would consider austere, even brutal, in order to succeed.