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Olympian not going for gold, silver or bronze

Abdi Abdirahman finished third at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston on Jan. 14, 2012.

Richard Carson/Reuters/Richard Carson/Reuters

Olympic athletes typically inspire us with their willpower, their unwavering determination and their give-it-your-all attitude – which makes Abdi Abdirahman the ultimate Olympic anti-hero.

As The Wall Street Journal reported in a profile of the 35-year-old long-distance runner, Mr. Abdirahman, who is representing the United States in the London Games this summer, occasionally skips training to lie in bed and watch T.V., he eats whatever he wants, and uses his endorsement money for personal pleasures instead of to finance his training. Mr. Abdirahman doesn't even intend to win his races – and his lack of medals doesn't bother him in the least.

"He's the polar opposite of any other runners I've ever known," his friend, Shelley Duncan, a Cleveland Indians outfielder, told The Wall Street Journal. "He's just a guy who loves life."

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Mr. Abdirahman is no slacker. Although his approach to training can seem lackadaisical (he's not afraid to say, "I'm tired man, I'm not going to train today"), he runs up to 170 kilometres a week. Still, that's far short of the weekly 225 km that many elite marathoners clock in, and he's never run faster than 10th place in his previous three Olympic Games. But by refusing to give in to the pressure of competition and risk burnout and injury, Mr. Abdirahman offers a different kind of athletic success story: one that doesn't let ambition get in the way of his enjoyment of the sport.

The Wall Street Journal says the 5-foot-11, 130-pound (180-cm, 59-kg) runner stocks his freezer with red meat, and has no hesitations about eating carbs. He never ran track in high school, and appeared at his first college practice in jeans and boots, yet still almost outran the team's best runner. Later, at a time when he was living on $200 (US) a month, he received a $30,000 Nike endorsement to help fund his training. He used that money to buy a Ford Explorer and to treat his friends. "All I did was hang out with my friends and take them out to dinner all the time," he told the newspaper. "It was the best."

While it's possible Mr. Abdirahman could perform better if he put his nose to the grindstone, there's something to be said about not pushing oneself too far. Most of us can probably think of individuals (including ourselves, perhaps), who strive so hard to get ahead, they lose sight of taking pleasure in the task.

Mr. Abdirahman summed up his mindset when asked how he'd feel about ending his running career without any international medals: "I'm not going to be like, 'What have I done! I've wasted my life!' No, that's not me."

Is it okay not to be ambitious? Could you get away with taking it easier at work?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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