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‘One door closes, a next door opens up somewhere’: the learning of one Olympic synchronised swimmer

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Although training in sport is necessary to reach Olympic status, a conditioned body is not the only outcome. Athletes also learn how to be Olympians. This learning involves taking on certain ways of acting, thinking and valuing. Such learning has implications beyond competition, as athletes eventually retire from elite sport and devote their time to other activities. This paper examines processes of learning and transition using the case of Amelia, a former Olympic synchronised swimmer. Through two in-depth interviews, empirical material was generated which focused on the learning that took place during this athlete’s career and after, during her transition to paid employment. A cultural view of learning was used as the theoretical frame to understand the athlete’s experiences. Our reading suggests that the athlete learned in various ways to be productive. Some of these ways of being were useful after retirement; others were less compatible. In fact, Amelia used a two-year period after retirement to reconstruct herself. Key to her eventual successful transition was to distance herself from the sport and to critically reflect upon her sporting experiences. We thus recommend that those involved with high-performance athletes foster a more balanced perspective that acknowledges and promotes ways of being beyond athletic involvement.
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Keywords: Olympic athletes; communities of practice; critical reflection; cultural learning; identity reconstruction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science,University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden 2: School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia 3: School of Public Health, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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