I, Dicon of Athens, stand in this grand stadium aside the river Alpheus. As the proud progeny of my city’s dedication to the perfection of mind and body, I await the first great climax of my life.
Gathering near me are athletes from across the Greek world, from as afar as Rhodes, Carthage, and Macedon. We await the trumpet blast that will start the first race–one length of this stadium–of these sacred games of Olympia.
I shall win this race for I have learned well that it is not the body that separates athletes at the end line, but the mind.
When I began my quest four years ago, I was strong of limb but not of mind. But I learned to plan in years, to reject siren calls to feast on stag, converse with friends, dance with women. Day upon day, alone, I strained up hills, down river beds, across fields; I kneeled, sprang forward, dashed a countless millennia of times–to make fit my mind. I disciplined it to never surrender to my heaving chest, burning sinew or aching bone. In the tired light of early morning I have looked inward and asked: Is my body so spent that I must forget my dream? Or is this a self-deception and instead should I rise again to conquer my muscle and blood? I have always risen.
I make my self strong by remembering my purpose, and by imagining the ecstasy of victory, past and future. I step forward knowing that running is ambrosia to my soul.
Athletes are not born; they are trained–by the athlete and his will.
What is this cheer that races around the stadium? Spiros, the Ilonian, a favorite from among my competitors, enters. His eyes are not to where he strides, but on those who walk beside him: orators, poets, sculptors. But he will learn today that a mind ruled by a heart desiring fame and applause is not strong enough to win great victories.
I have learned that success flows from the mind’s mastery of the heart. Then one can be strong enough to keep one’s gaze on the lonely road that marks every great journey. Then one has mettle enough to banish from one’s heart its greatest foe: self-doubt. Invincible, that is how an athlete must feel about himself. But self-assurance is earned–through the rigor of training and by competing at ever-loftier heights, and by never surrendering to fear or failure. To allow this self-betrayal is to let the carrion bird of doubt peck away at one’s resolve until all that is left are commonplace goals, commonplace passions, commonplace actions–and a weak heart that rules the mind.
I further banish from my heart right feelings–if they would divert me. Sixty days ago a messenger whispered to my ear that my mother, whom I love, had died. But not one tear for her have I cried. I have labored too hard and too long to falter now, so I buried my grief in a dark place and will weep for her only when this race is won.
To command one’s heart is harder than to run from Marathon to Athens, but to achieve it is true strength.
A trumpet fanfare. It heralds the man who once would have made me fear, a master of logic and tactic, that famed pupil of philosopher Aristotle. He walks alone towards the starting line, his eyes piercing forward as if seeing beyond all borders. Prince Alexander of Macedon.
But I have always fashioned better thoughts than any competitor, as I will against the prince who now stands so tall beside me. I have listened carefully to reports of all his races, so I know well his strategies. From the first footfall, I will seize the path on his flank and lead. These positions Alexander has never conceded, and failing to gain them his confidence will stutter. Alexander will chase my heels.
The judges reach the far end of my stadium. Now I must ready my mind for my greatest battle on the field of individual excellence. I close my eyes and in my mind’s eye I watch myself run my race, flawlessly. Every breath, every muscle, every thought, every feeling now one, weightless and sure, like a perfect wave rolling across a lake.
My eyes open to the drumbeat that summons the final eight to this line. Fifty thousand voices cheer for perfection, then hush to silence. Runners kneel. I face the finish line like an arrow at a target, all my being focused there.
I know I have already won, for I have learned life’s great lesson: that the mind is master of life.
May the Olympic Games always shine as the torchlight of and for the human mind. Then they will forever be to the glory of man. Let the Games begin. I am ready.