I love the Winter Olympics. The speed of the downhill, the endurance of the cross country racers and the sheer drama of the slope-style competitions completely eclipse anything the summer version can offer. Jenny Jones, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and Matthias Mayer are my Olympic stars. Alongside their skill and bravery their cheerful encouragement of their rivals embodies the spirit of the Olympics so much more than the extreme stars of track and field.

Extremism and specialism is increasingly the norm in many areas of life. There is no doubt that to perform at the elite end of sport requires a level of commitment and single-minded purpose that was unheard of ten years ago. We also see it in healthcare where surgeons specialise in a limited range of operations, in law; indeed in every profession. It is the natural consequence of a competitive, complex world.

But the headlong rush towards specialism in the quest for competitive success brings its risk. A quick look at the fossil record shows that specialist organisms failed to adapt to changing conditions and became quickly extinct. Today’s stars risk obsolescence if they do not have the skills to adapt in our fast changing world. 

In the world of hot-house education, the tight-rope of elite academic competition leaves no room for error. A constant focus on examination performance inevitably leaves many of the nation’s brightest pupils deficient in the wider skill-set and will leave them unable to take advantage of changing circumstances as they carve out their careers. 

Single-minded specialism may bring its flash of fame but bravery, endurance and creativity are pre-requisites for long-term success. Our winter Olympians have plenty to look forward to.

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