Randy Couture was an Olympic wrestling alternate four consecutive times. To be sure, that is an incredible accomplishment, but it was also the source of a great deal of frustration for "The Natural."
After all, it meant that for 16 years, Couture trained and traveled with the Olympic squad, getting a front-row seat to watch others live out his dream. That failure to actually compete in and win at an Olympic games is a huge part of what made Couture turn to mixed martial arts and, eventually become a two-division world champion and all-time great.
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In fact, he once told me that if he would have made it to the Olympics and won there, he couldn't be sure that he would have ever given MMA a real go, to begin with. "I may have felt satisfied with what I'd accomplished," he said.
"I was always unsatisfied, though, because I didn't get to the Olympics, and that drove me to do things in MMA."
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier has spoken of how not winning gold as a wrestler at the Olympics similarly gave him the fire to accomplish what he has in MMA. During a media scrum at an open workout at her home gym in Los Angeles this week, Olympic judo bronze medalist and reigning UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey echoed that emotion, explaining how falling short as an amateur is still what drives her now, as a professional.
"I still get [motivation] from never winning the Olympics," she told assembled reporters.
"That was my childhood dream, I spent my whole life in pursuit of that, and I had to give that up ... and I've always been heartbroken from that, in a way that I'm still grateful for because I think that if I would have won the Olympics, I wouldn't have this never-ending source of motivation that I have."
The truly great and lasting competitors are capable of turning the smallest seeds of irritation into motivation and, ultimately, soaring achievements. It's a useful skill, especially for a dominant, undefeated sudden millionaire like Rousey.
Even though she faces women who are usually quite overmatched in skill and experience, and even though she's making a splash in Hollywood as well as in the cage, The Rowdy One grinds away like a rookie each day in pointedly unglamorous gyms, and she does so because she keeps her last defeat in mind.
"Every time I go out there and defend my title it's another chance to redeem myself," she explained.
"But it's never quite an Olympic gold medal. And that's how I stay I motivated."
Rousey next defends her title on Nov. 14 in Melbourne against former boxing world champion Holly Holm in the main event of UFC 193.