What Makes a Champion? Event 2000
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What is championship?

"Answer this question and we will have captured the crucial ingredient which lets the human spirit soar."

Professor Allan Snyder FRS
The Inaugural Edwin Flack Lecture
Sydney, 26 June 1998


What Makes a Champion? event
3-4 September 2000
Great Hall, University of Sydney

The What Makes a Champion? event was conceived in 1997 by
Professor Allan Snyder, Director of the Centre for the Mind. Subsequently, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable John Howard MP, enthusiastically supported the proposal and agreed to be its patron.


Allan Snyder and Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela receives the Centre for the Mind's Millenium Medal.

The event was stage managed by the Centre for the Mind and guided by a blue ribbon Organising Committee with two of Australia's leading corporations the AMP and Ernst & Young as intellectual partners. The event was prestigiously launched by Nelson Mandela. Six provocative panel sessions designed to facilitate a dynamic exchange of ideas between the panelists and the audience.

The herculean task of inspiring intellectual depth plus exhilarating entertainment was entrusted to several media celebrities: Master of Ceremonies Phillip Adams and facilitators Maxine McKew, George Negus, Peter Thompson and Margaret Throsby.

Address given by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela delivers the opening speech
of the Centre of the Mind's
What Makes a champion?™ event.

Attendees were encouraged to participate by offering personal insights and by asking questions. They were also invited to contribute a written piece of up to a maximum of 500. This could address any aspect of What Makes a Champion? or could be an analysis of any aspect of the event. Ulimately the thoughts became the Penguin book What Makes a Champion! Fifty extraordinary individuals share their insights

Reflections on the event by Michael L'Estrange
Australia's high Commissioner to London (formerly Federal Cabinet Secretary)

I discussed with Allan Snyder some considerable time before the Sydney Olympics his idea of an 'Olympics of the Mind' to be held around the same time as the 2000 Games. This was more than a gleam in Allan's eye - it was an objective to which he was utterly, and rightly, dedicated.

I always believed that this was an idea for the times - a golden opportunity to project a modern realistic image of Australia to the world and a chance to nail forever those tired, outdated stereotypes.

Australia is a nation of the twenty-first century - technologically sophisticated, culturally diverse, adaptable, questing, innovative and optimistic. Allan Snyder's brainchild What Makes a Champion? sought to capture these dimensions of Australia, and did so dramatically well.

One of the distinctive achievements of What Makes a Champion? lay not only in its reflective analysis of what has set the champions of the past apart from their rivals but also in the pointers it gave for the champions of the future to realise their potential.

But perhaps more than anything else, What Makes a Champion? reflected the diversity of modern Australia. It highlighted that, whether it be in matters of the mind or the fields of sporting endeavour, Australians bring a unique perspective, a special focus and a capacity for surprise,

Allan Snyder and his team at the Centre for the Mind, along with the support of many others, brought an extraordinary range of human talent to Sydney prior to the 2000 Olympics to ask hard and difficult questions about achievement, progress and development. That talent encompassed a broad spectrum of achievement. There were those who had the courage and tenacity to defy history and oppression. There were those who overcame obstacles and broke barriers that others thought impregnable. There were those who achieved great things from the most humble origins. There were those whose entrepreneurship and innovation had changed forever ways of doing things. But they all shared one quality: they were the achievers of the human spirit and they were all prepared to contribute to an extraordinary occasion which aimed to unlock the champion potential of others.

What Makes a Champion? was an important event for Australia but had implications for people everywhere. The fact that it took place in Sydney during that unforgettable Olympic period says much about the true dimensions of modern Australia, the real scope of the Olympic Movement and the commitment to excellence on the part of all who conceived and participated in it.

Time and Place
The event was opened during the evening of Sunday 3 September 2000, just prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and finished on Monday 4 September. The proceedings were held in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney.

Participants included:

  • Nelson Mandela

  • Event Patron: Australian Prime Minister John Howard

  • Sir Edmund Hillary - First to climb Mt.Everest

  • Breakthrough scientists: Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty; Professor Elkhonon Goldberg, Director Institute of Neuropsychology and Cognitive Performance, New York; Young Australian of the Year 1999 Dr Bryan Gaensler; Australian of the Year 2000 Sir Gustav Nossal; international prize winner Professor Allan Snyder.

  • Giants on the international scene: Richard Butler and Malcolm Fraser.
  • Entrepreneur Harry M Miller
  • Advertising guru Alex Hamill of George Patterson Bates.
  • Air Commodore Julie Hammer, highest ranked woman in the Australian Defence Forces.
  • Business leaders: including youngest Australian CEO Alex Hartman, founder of Amicus Software; Paul Batchelor, CEO AMP; James Millar, Deputy CEO Ernst & Young; Michael Rennie, Director McKinseys & Co.; Peter Ritchie, Non-Executive Chairman McDonalds; Poppy King, Founder Poppy Industries and Young Australian of the Year 1995; Imelda Roche, Chairman of Nutrimetics.
  • Sporting legends now leaders in industry: Herb Elliott former U.S. Director of Puma and current AOC Director - Athlete & Corporate Relations; Ralph Doubell, Executive Chairman of Australian Derivatives Exchange; Ron Clarke, CEO Interpacific Resorts and Director Tourism Queensland; Peter Montgomery Foundation President of the World Olympians Association and member of the IOC Commission for Sport and Law; John Konrads, Director of Cook + Phillip Park Aquatic Centre and former Managing Director of L' Oreal Australasian Operations.
  • Creative Performers and Writers: Joyce Brown, writer and sport science specialist; Ian Gawler, therapeutic director and writer; soprano Yvonne Kenny; Anne Summers, writer and columnist; Simon Tedeschi, 1998 Young Performer of the Year; Di Morrissey, writer; Matthew Reilly, author; Roger Woodward, concert pianist, conductor and composer.
  • Sporting Greats: Captain of the Australian Rugby Team John Eales, Yiannis Kouros; Debra Flintoff-King; Shane Gould; Shelley Taylor-Smith and Susie Maroney.
  • And many other guests: including Vice President of the International Olympic Committee Kevan Gosper; politician Tim Fischer; Australian icon, Magistrate and Chancellor of New England University Pat O'Shane; Chancellor of the University of Sydney Dame Leonie Kramer; adventurer Tim Macartney-Snape, the first man to scale Mount Everest from sea level; community activist and businessman Mark Bagshaw; IOC Member and triple Olympic gold medallist Irena Szewinska; Jesuit priest and President of the prestigious Ateneo de Manila University, Bienvenido Nebres.

What Makes a Champion? Organising Committee

  • Sean Barrett Chief Executive Officer The Rowland Company
  • Prof Gavin Brown FAA Vice-Chancellor and Principal University of Sydney
  • Herb Elliott MBE Director - Athlete and Corporate Relations Australian Olympic Committee
  • James Ferguson Executive Director Australian Sports commission
  • Alex Hamill Chairman The Communications Group



Academic experts across a broad range of disciplines, including Anthropology, Biology, Sociology, Linguistics, and Sports and Motivational Psychology joined in a series of stimulating discussions to provide the research framework behind the Centre's spectacular initiative, What Makes a Champion?. The breadth of discussion was immense.

It was proposed that 'championship' is relative in terms of a society's definition of 'worth', an example being Bob Hawke's position as Australia's champion beer drinker. Championship can apparently exist in areas ranging from the frivolous to the profound. We also discussed the extremes that individuals are willing to go to achieve their goals - some dishonest - and how in Australia a champion is so easily toppled (as an example, Alan Bond).

Cross-cultural issues also became apparent, for example in some cultures there is not even a word for championship - the word is simply not translatable, while in the Yiddish language there are hundreds of words for failure and only a few for success! Language can offer a magnifying glass on the societal importance of concepts. The more words that exist for something, the more subtleties, the more important the concept.

Another compelling question that arose from the meeting was whether championship has certain universal elements, and whether these may be accessed or identified. Can we identify the element that compels the champion writer, humanitarian, artist, or scientist to strive for success with a drive that seems almost inconceivable to mere mortals? It was discussed as to whether the enigma of championship could be explored through interviewing champions employing processes designed to reveal aspects of the nonconscious mind.

Many questions arose during in the course of the discussion: the role of the media in constituting a champion; whether negative emotions are actually great motivators or whether appreciation (applause) is the driving force behind championship; the relationship between championship and adversity; whether champions are simply those people who take advantage of 'moments'; and the importance of self-belief. The entries from the champions have addressed many of these issues.

As a result, the Centre for the Mind began working on the hard research aspect of the event in the sister project What Makes a Corporate Champion? This research has culminated in our Champion Mindset and Corporate Creativity programs. For more information, click here.

WMC Research Team

Professor Allan Snyder Director - Centre for the Mind Chairman - What Makes a Champion? Organising Committee
Jeff Bond Sports Psychologist Australian Institute of Sport (mentored Pat Cash's Wimbledon victory)
Professor Phillip Boyce Head of Psychological Medicine University of Sydney
Bradley Chenoweth Lawyer, Conflict Mediator
Dr Michael Djordjevic Research Biologist Australian National University (motivation and nourishment of champions)
Professor Stewart M. Dunn Department of Psychological Medicine University of Sydney
Professor Janet George Head of Sociology University of Sydney
Dr Jan Larbalestier Social Policy and Sociology University of Sydney
Andrew Meikle Director, Meikle Files (Former Australian Iron Man)
Dr Roland Rich Director - Centre for Democratic Institutions Former Australian Ambassador to Laos
Justine Stynes Sports Psychologist University of Sydney
Dr Michael Vischer Visual Anthropologist Australian National University (specialising in Indonesia)
Dr Michael Walsh Linguistics University of Sydney (specialising in Australian Languages)