Advertising Week 2014: In The Sweat or in The Blood?

Nature or nurture? Natural talent of hard graft? Why do some folk reach the top of their field while others are left trailing behind? M&C Saatchi caught up with Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton CBE and cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff MBE to establish how they became sporting stars and masters of their own brands…

Victoria Pendleton CBE, Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff MBE and M&C Saatchi Merlin chairman Richard Thompson debating the path to success.

Victoria Pendleton CBE, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff MBE and M&C Saatchi Merlin chairman Richard Thompson debating the path to success.

So, where did it begin?

Victoria: I always knew I wanted to be the best at something. I think secretly I want to be intimidating!

Freddie: The drive kicked in when I hit 20st and realised I was wasting my skills. Mentally, I’ve always been stronger than any competitor, though there were lots of people better than me at cricket. I became successful because I chose to.

Training can be painful – how do you deal with that?

Victoria: You start small and build your physical and mental tolerance for pain and hard work. In my Olympic training labs, I was producing more lactic acid than most of the male athletes, because I constantly pushed to be better, I think maybe you have to be a perfectionist, and a bit of a control freak!

Freddie: In the early years, I didn’t push myself, so that wasn’t painful at all! And to be honest, I’d still say ‘no’ to an ice bath – they’re far too cold.

What do you think holds people back in their chosen field?

Victoria: Fear of failure. It starts when you’re a kid. I had that fear, but I also had a father that pushed me to try new things. I think focus and the ability to stay 100% committed could be something you’re born with. But it’s the environment you grow up in that determines if you tap into that or not.

Freddie: Agreed. Of my three kids, two aren’t bothered about cricket at all, one loves it. But all three have the ability to tune in and focus on a single activity until they’ve got it mastered. That could be innate, but it’s also something I encourage.

When it comes to engaging with brands, both Victoria and Freddie agree it’s about relevance and shared values between spokesperson and brand. For Victoria, that means a line of Halfords ‘Pendleton bikes’. For Freddie, it’s being a brand ambassador for Jamaco. Their routes to commercial success and ‘becoming their own brand’ may not have been identical, but they agree on one crucial element: Where focus and skill goes, endorsement will follow.