Duncan Mackay

As any leading sportsman or woman will happily tell you, everything happens for a reason. Even if the reason is that life is random.

Watching some of the world’s finest athletes prepare in Doha this week for the big opening event of the athletics season - the first of the IAAF’s new Diamond League meetings - it has been intriguing to see the convoluted lengths to which many of them are going in order to maximise the positive, minimise the negative.

In her characteristically direct way, Britain’s Olympic 400 metres champion Christine Ohuruogu got to the heart of the problem as she looked ahead to a long season which might yet stretch all the way to New Delhi for her.

"The biggest thing an athlete fears is losing," said the athlete who saw her world 400m title go to her closest rival, Sanya Richards of the United States, after injury had disrupted her preparations for last year’s Championships in Berlin.

"I think last year really did screw me up, losing my title. It really didn’t feel right.

"You know, you train really hard all year and when you need it, it just falls apart. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

"I was out for about three weeks - I missed the meetings at Paris and Crystal Palace, and one of my first major training sessions afterwards was at the holding camp for the World Champs, which was really risky.

"I knew it was going to be very tough. I was kind of hoping for a miracle. But I just thought ‘I’d rather come out here and try.’ So at least for next year, or another year, I’d know how to get myself fit if I needed to."

But here was the flip side to the defeat which ended a run of three big winning years for the Londoner at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2007 World Championships and 2008 Olympics. Losing was not all bad.

"It was a relief to know that I can lose and the world doesn’t collapse, the ground doesn’t open up and swallow me and I can wake up the next day and still do my job," said Ohuruogu who, with her studious glasses and thoughtful pauses has more and more the air of a PhD student.

"I lost in Berlin, but I could still go back and hold my head up. I pretty much started as I walked away from the track. A lot of the coaches said really positive things about me.

"But that’s just how it is, you know. As my mum says, you can’t win everything."

Of course, if there is relief in defeat, there is sometimes little but relief in victory.

Think of Asafa Powell, with failures at the 2004 Olympics and 2005 World Championships behind him, finally winning a title at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, where he would practically have had to fall over not to win the 100m.

Think of Tony Jarrett at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, facing a 110m hurdles field that, for once, did not include his nemesis Colin Jackson. He managed to get the gold, but it was not a pretty sight.

For Ohuruogu, mum is right. And as far as Kenya’s dizzyingly talented 21-year-old 800m runner David Rudisha is concerned, on the subject of winning and losing, Dad is right.

Rudisha’s dad, Daniel, won an Olympic silver medal for Kenya in the 400 metres relay at the 1968 Mexico Games. He knows what it is to succeed in sport - and to fall below expectation.

So he was well placed to advise his son when his stellar world junior title win in 2006 was followed by an injury which kept him out of the Beijing Olympics and then failure to reach the final at last year’s World Championships.

"My father told me: ‘If you are beaten today, ask yourself why,'" Rudisha said in a voice so soft you had to strain to hear it. "He said: 'That will keep you going because you give yourself focus, there is tomorrow. You try to fix everything, and then tomorrow you improve.'"

Daniel Rudisha is not the only person to extol the benefits of learning from painful experience. Kenya’s double world champion of 1987 and 1991, Billy Konchellah, who is from the same Maasi tribe as Rudisha and lives no more than six miles from him, liked to mention a Swahili saying, the gist of which was this: "If you can’t accept losing, you will never be a winner."

If it looks like a mantra, and it sounds like a mantra, then it is a mantra. But who’s to say it won’t work?

There is another mantra which insists that all athletes react differently to pressure. But Ohuruogu begs to differ as she looks ahead to a home Olympics where she, and all her fellow British competitors, will, in her words, "feel the heat."

She reflected: "London 2012 is going to be probably the most stressful competition for us. All of us British athletes will have pressure on us to perform - and not just the athletes, but the rowers, and the swimmers... It’s going to be hard."

Ohuruogu foresees a situation where competitors will effectively be giving each other psychological assistance in the run-up to the Games, perhaps within some form of official structure.

"For all kinds of reasons, I think everyone is going to find that they might need help in coping. I hope athletes will be big enough to say they need a bit of help. Because we are all pretty much in the same boat."

The most delicate part of any athlete - it’s not the hamstring; it’s not the Achilles tendon. It’s the mind.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames