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Bruce Bucknell

Former British Deputy High Commissioner Kolkata

Part of UK in Belarus

1st March 2013

Personal Best

The talk last week was all about PBs or “personal bests”. Best of what?

We often make up “catch phrases” – or “модное слово” (modnaye slova).  They are not always easy to understand.  By “personal best”, we mean “personal best times” or “личный рекорд” (leechni record) in Russian and “асабісты рэкорд” (asabisty record) in Belarusian.

The world track cycling championships took place in Minsk last week.  The British track cycling team has been the most successful British team in recent Olympic Games.  They dominated the track cycling events in both the Beijing and London Olympics.  They also won most medals in Minsk.  The top cyclists are now stars in Britain, and track cycling attracts a lot of interest.

But the team weren’t focussed so much on winning.  When I met them, the coaches told me that the aim was that the riders should try and achieve PBs – a “personal best”, to beat their previous own best times.  Medals would be good, but not everyone would win one.

I found that, when you are in the arena, track cycling is mesmerising.  The cyclists pass so quickly, the camera can hardly keep up.  But your eyes naturally focus on the cyclists with their legs pumping like pistons in an engine.  The arena in the background is just a blur.


Some of the races are “sprints” – a few circuits of the 250 metre track and that’s it.  I’m not sure how they assess personal bests in those events.  But there is a very fine line between winning and the other places.  A few of the sprint races were won by a centimetre or two, just by the rim of a wheel.

Other races are “endurance”, for example the points race of 160 laps, or 40 km.  The speed of the cyclists in the longer races didn’t seem much slower to me than in the sprint races.  All passed at high speed!

British track cycling success isn’t recent.  In fact, UK has the second highest number of winners in the world track cycling championships since they first began in 1893.  Track cycling is only one several types of international cycling competition.  British cyclists have won other types of cycle races including, for the first time last year, the Tour de France.  Many of the riders in Minsk will be taking part in other forms of competition throughout the year.

The British success in competitions has come at a time when international cycle racing has had many scandals over doping.  But cycling is much more popular now in Britain.  Sales of bicycles have jumped in recent years, as has the growth in commuting to work by bicycle especially in London.  British Cycling, the governing body that runs the various national racing teams, also acts as a lobby to improve the conditions for all cyclists in Britain.

A few years ago, the expression “getting on your bike” was a political slogan, an exhortation for workers to go and find a job.  Now, we seem literally to be getting on our bikes – for sport, for fitness or just to get to work every day.

Only a few can become world champions.  And a career in sport can be very short.  A British visitor here last year explained how his promising football career had been ended at 16.  He got a stud through his knee cap.  But he has a talent for business (and is doing very well out of it).  Other sportsmen aren’t so lucky.

Top professionals in contact sports must constantly worry about injury.  Even in non-contact sports,   when you are pushing your body to the limit – to be faster, higher, stronger – the nightmare of injury must always be at the back of your mind.  Of a snapped tendon, a torn ligament or pulled muscle that ends all the effort of hundreds of hours of training.  We don’t tend to hear their stories.

So to the lucky, injury-free few – glory.  But for all – a personal best is best.  The true competition is beating your own records and constantly striving to improve.

3 comments on “Personal Best

  1. Dear Mr. Bruce Bucknell!
    Thank you for the interesting article!
    My name is Evialina Kryshtapovich. I am an artist, but I have always found inspiration in sport. Painting is my passion and I can understand all the sportsperson for whom sport is their obsession. First of all, I was attracted by the name of the article! Personal Best… Behind these words I can see an interesting life, a lot of hard work and a great desire to live with passion and be successful in life.
    Sport for me is an example of the incredible possibilities of the human body, strength of will and mind…spirit that dared to do impossible things. I really liked the fact that you were interested in psychology of winners! I like the idea that athletes were not fixated on winning over the other players, but they are wanted to be better themselves.. This is something that has always fascinated me in the sport.. Probably the only one thing that ultimately has a decisive role in the victory is the attitude with which the person is playing..
    I have always admired athletes who have found the strength to live and work after they received physical or psychological injury, or when they are retired when they was at their physical ‘peak’ and don’t wait until their body or coach tells that it’s time to go..
    Because, perhaps even harder is finding the answer to the question for any sportsperson: “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” and after their career is over they are find strength and will to live and invest their energies in a new activities. I have always admired the courage of those who find in themselves a new talent as bright like in sports!
    Mr.Bucknell, let me ask you a question. What is success for you and what personal qualities should have a successful person? Where do you get your inspiration, and what advice would you give to be always motivated and successful in life.
    Thank you!:)
    Evialina Kryshtapovich

    p.s. and please, sorry for my English:) I learn hard, but I know so little as yet..

    1. Dear Evialina: I’m sorry for the delay in replying, but I only recently saw your post.

      I’m a diplomat, not a psychologist or professional trainer. As a non-expert, I think success depends on many factors: what goals you set, what profession or career you pursue, your own personal priorities – to name a few.

      I gain inspiration from reading lots of different sources, meeting different people and seeing new places. I’m inspired most by those who’ve overcome adversity, or who help others by passing on their wisdom and experience, or who set themselves ambitious goals and strive hard to achieve them. Or anyone being under being put under pressure, who remains calm, polite and focused.

  2. Dear Bruce,
    1st. of all : Thanks for these to me very useful links. I.e.: “Cycling_World_Championships”. Of course, , I ´ve also asked myself : BP´s ? Best of- sorry- what in the world ? After reading your article it ´s clear of what you´re talking of: “Personal BEST times”.
    But most remarkable to me was to read , that some years earlier this expression ” Getting on your Bike” was a political slogan ! So far I didn ´t associate this “Motto” with politics at all. Today , it ´s really much more suitable to sport-activities or social acting. There ´s a very similar saying in Stuttgart: ” Komm wieder auf die Räder….they only prefer to use it more with fitness or health-condition. “Tora be ” in Wales/Cymru might also be sthg. the same meaning. So you can see that I ´m also and always interested in languages. Nevertheless : A great and informative story of you ! Or : ” A personal best is for all of us the very best “. THE BEST is to me anyway relative. Bw and a nice weekend, a guats Woachaendle and Hawyl Faur. Ingo-Steven Wais

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About Bruce Bucknell

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016. Bruce grew up on a…

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016.

Bruce grew up on a farm in southern England and enjoys walking in the countryside and visiting wild places.

He studied modern history at Durham University, and takes a keen interest in the history of the places he visits.

Bruce used to play cricket when he could see the ball. Now he enjoys watching cricket and many other sports in his spare time.

He has had a varied career in the Foreign Office. Between his postings to Amman (1988-91), Milan (1995-9) and Madrid (2003-7), he has spent much of his career in London mostly dealing with Europe and Africa.

He is married with two grown up sons.