Scotland’s Euan Burton found that out at the London Olympics, when years of preparation were blown away within minutes as he lost his first bout. And his team-mates here at the Commonwealth Games are all too aware that, for them as well, their dreams could be dashed swiftly and without mercy.
“I don’t think there’s any sport like it,” said Sarah Adlington, who will be supporting her Scotland team-mates in the first two days of competition before competing in the +78kg weight category on Saturday. “I don’t think you appreciate that until you’re in it.
“We’re all used to it now, that that’s just judo – you can win inside 30 seconds or lose inside 30 seconds. One mistake and it can all be over, but one piece of magic judo and you can be Commonwealth champion.
“Throughout my career there have been ups and downs – same as everyone else – and you just get better in dealing with them. You won’t get through life without experiencing ups and downs and you just learn to cope better with the disappointments. You have to analyse the ups as well as the downs. Sometimes you have to look at why things have gone well as much as analysing it when it hasn’t gone so well. That’s a massive part of it as well.
“I’ll try to go to the morning sessions to watch on the first two days and just get used to the atmosphere. There are going to be big crowds so I have to get a feel of what that will be like. Then I’ll go back and chill and think about what I’ll have to do on Saturday.”
For Adlington and her team-mates, the last few days have been curious. As the excitement has built, with their last joint training session and then their arrival in the village, they feel more energised – but they have actually had to be less active than usual in order to ensure that they are at their freshest when it matters most.
“Training has been tapering off ahead of competing,” explained the 27-year-old, who, lest you wondered, is no relation to former Olympic champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington. “So, although the intensity has gone up, the volume of training has gone down before we start competing.
“It’s mad that it’s come around so quickly. I compete on Saturday, but, hopefully, there will be medal opportunities every day.
“Hopefully, the first day goes well for us and that continues all the way through, but I’ll just need to concentrate on me and make sure I’m ready for Saturday. Obviously I’ll be pleased if people do well, and will be upset if they don’t, but I just have to remember what I’m there for.”
What Adlington, Burton and all the others are there for is to win medals. After the success of the judo team the last time the sport was in the Games, they know there is massive expectation on them to deliver. Adlington’s way of dealing with that pressure is to remind herself that, no matter the title of the event, no matter its prestige or the size of the crowd, the fundamentals remain.
“It’s just a judo tournament at the end of the day,” she said. “What we’ve got to do is the exact same thing as before – step on the mat and try to win.
“That doesn’t change. Although there’s a lot of expectation, the mindset is just the same. We’re there to do the best we can do.”