Deloitte UK

Ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Nile Wilson, Commonwealth and Olympic Games medal winning gymnast, and seven time Paralympian Hannah Cockroft OBE, examines the notion of what defines a "champion". 

Both former athletes were guests during the latest edition of Deloitte’s award-winning ‘The Green Room’ podcast. So, what exactly can you classify as a champion? "For me, a champion in sporting terms is exactly what you think it is," said Cockroft. 

"It is the absolute cream of the crop; it is the best of the best and what everybody wants to be. That is what we train to be and what we train to do. We want to be champions. It is in fact the Latin word for gladiator, so it means warrior or fighter. We go out there and fight, and then hopefully we win."

Wilson, who was present alongside Cockroft, defined it slightly differently. He said, "For me, I have three, four years of having retired from sports. So, you're right, in elite, professional sports, the environment is very binary. It is black or white; you win or you lose. That does create a champion.

"The intensity that you have to have around your life, your discipline in your training and craft, to become the best in the world, It is irreplicable anywhere else, and it does create tough, strong, resilient human beings that go on to do incredible things that we are all blown away by when we see them on TV at the Olympics.

Paralympic champion Cockroft revealed what she believed defines the word 'champion'. Deloitte UK
Paralympic champion Cockroft revealed what she believed defines the word 'champion'. Deloitte UK

"I sort of, in my own journey, have had to redefine what success means and what a champion is. I really believe it is from within; it is how you feel about yourself. I think for me, champion status nowadays is being a good friend, a good son or brother, a nice person to be around, and someone who brings their best selves to their work. That is more about the process than the end result.

"Obviously, with a gold medal around your neck, you're a champion. Though it is interesting to dive into that conversation, No matter how big the achievement, big or small, if you're proud of what you have done, to me that is being a champion; it does not have to be being a seven-time Olympic champion," Wilson added.

Cockroft was quick to agree; she said, "Being a champion in sport is actually really quite difficult, compared to being one in everyday life. It is the little things in everyday life that actually add up. I was not born to be a champion. You have to learn the characteristics of becoming a champion; nobody is born with them.

"I was always taught to be determined, stubborn, and confident, but also to believe in myself and say yes. Also, to take opportunities, all those things are what make you a champion. Not being outside their comfort zone and pushing themselves."


Wilson also gave his take on becoming a 'champion' during the podcast. Deloitte UK
Wilson also gave his take on becoming a 'champion' during the podcast. Deloitte UK

Wilson continued, "You have to be self-absorbed and reflect on certain times. I did not care about what anyone else thought; you have to be so laser-focused. You win or lose, and it is quite scary when you go back to normal life afterwards. There is like an emptiness of what now? What am I meant to do now?

"You are to perform in front of 50,000 people and millions watching at home for an event you have trained your whole life for. They don't come around often. I am always trying to get better over time."

Cockroft then added, "The buildup and getting on that start line, especially in the Paralympics, are terrifying. We are talking about pressure and expectations. That never goes away; it is there every training session, every day, and with social media, you're constantly reminded. It is nice to get the messages, but there is so much pressure.

"They are like, 'You will do it, Hannah, two gold medals, but people sometimes forget, and they see it when you're on that major championship start line. I genuinely believe that if you think you can win, then you can. I have been successful the way I have been because the girls believe they can't beat me. "I can sit in a call room, and they say I can happily win silver today, and I say, why not gold? I genuinely believe they can't because they don't believe. It is all in your head; 50 percent is in your gym, track, and training, but the other 50 percent is in your head.

"The fear is not winning gold; it is the crippling fear of not winning it."

Watch the full version of the latest podcast episode here.