Inside the mind of perfection How four all-time greats raised their games to new heights Research: Simon Jones

Click to follow

Six-times US Masters golf

champion who has

won 18 majors in total

"I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It's like a colour movie. First I 'see' the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I 'see' the ball going there: its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality."

From "Golf My Way" by Jack Nicklaus (Simon & Schuster)


Olympic 400m hurdles

champion at the 1968 Games

"Only a couple of times in my life have I felt in such condition that my mind and body worked as one. This was one of those times. My limbs reacted as my mind was thinking: total control, which resulted in absolute freedom. Instead of forcing and working my legs, they responded with the speed and in the motions that were being asked of them."

On setting a world record when he won his gold medal in Mexico City


Three-times World Cup winner with Brazil - in

1958, 1962, 1970

"It was a type of euphoria; I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their team or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically. I felt I could not be hurt. It was a very strange feeling and one I had not felt before. Perhaps it was merely confidence, but I have felt confident many times without that strange feeling of invincibility."

From "My Life and the Beautiful Game" (Doubleday)

AYRTON SENNA Formula One motor racing world champion in

1988, 1990 and 1991

"I felt as though I was driving in a tunnel...The whole circuit became a tunnel...I had reached such a high level of concentration that it was as if the car and I had become one. Together we were at the maximum. I was giving the car everything and vice-versa... Suddenly it was as though I woke up and noticed that I had somehow been on a different level of consciousness. I was really shocked and I went straight back to the pits - and didn't drive any more that day. I realised I had been in a kind of unending spiral. Faster and faster, closer and closer to perfection. But also more vulnerable, with much less safety margin."

After practice for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix