The price of Olympic success

As principal physiologist, performance science and innovation at the Australian Institute of Sport, Shona Halson holds a critical role in the Australian Olympic team. She is director of the Australian Olympic Committee recovery centre for Rio and served in the same role for the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games.

Halson ensures Australia’s athletes have access to the best equipment and facilities available as well as guidance on how to recover between events. Her advice is essential to their success. But it has far wider significance than sport.

"Truly elite athletes are willing to do things that others aren’t."
Shona Halson, Director, Australian Olympic Committee recovery centre

Before she leaves for Rio this week, Halson shared with BlueNotes her tips for career success and what she’s most looking forward to at the Olympics.

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Francesca Rizzo:  You work closely with athletes at the top of their game. What do you think are the attributes of a truly successful person and how can anyone apply these in their workplace and career?

Shona Halson: My experience with truly elite athletes is they are willing to do things that others aren’t. I see this in their attention to detail and their focus on success.

I once asked a gold medallist from rowing why they thought they were so successful and their reply was they are always competing against themselves.

Their goal was to continually challenge themselves and see what their body could do. This athlete knew that whether or not success came, they had done everything they could. And of course success came in the biggest way with an Olympic gold medal.

I think many of the attributes of athletes pertaining to challenging themselves and putting themselves in highly stressful competitive situations is relevant to the workplace in many ways.


Shona’s story is just one among the many female leaders who are driving success across the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Teams.

You can click here to read more inspiring stories from the #RioRoleModels in the lead-up to the Games.

FR: Your own career has also been one of full of success – what is your advice for women aspiring to leadership positions, particularly in industries like sport, seen to be traditionally dominated by men?

SH: I think it is important for women to speak up - make sure their opinion is heard. All workplaces can benefit from the unique knowledge and skills of both genders.

My experience at the Australian Institute of Sport is that if you work hard, do a good job and have passion and enthusiasm for your work, gender is irrelevant.

Additionally, I have noticed increased opportunities for women particularly as keynote speakers or panellists at conferences.

I always try to say yes to these invitations so that early career scientists, of both genders, have an opportunity to have exposure to females in sport and in science.

FR: You’re about to depart for Rio, what are you most excited to see at the Olympics?

SH: There are always so many exciting things to see at the Games. But for me it will be the swimming as I have had an increased opportunity to work with the athletes in this Olympic cycle, due to the challenges around race times and sleep.

I also think a highlight will be watching Anna Meares in the Track Cycling. She is an incredible athlete excelling in a sport where you need to be absolutely fearless.

Francesca Rizzo is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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