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Olympic Veterans Leave Lessons in London

The world's best athletes inspire us to achieve greatness beyond sport.

Elite athletes today take enormous risks, pushing right to the edge in order to stand out and up onto a podium. So painful to watch a competitor’s life long dreams crushed in a split second. Equally impressive to witness miraculous victories such as Misty and Kerry’s victory over China in beach volleyball or our USA soccer team’s victory over Canada in overtime.

This year’s Olympic veterans spoke through their actions and attitudes. Leaving us with more than memories. If you want to win in the game of life, our veteran athletes can lead you to victory.

Winners believe they can win even if the evidence indicates otherwise.

Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings, our USA beach volleyball dynamic duo, remain optimistic throughout the entirety of every match. They can be down 7 points, miss the next serve, and go after the next point with certainty that they can win it. You see it in their body language and how they handle each other’s mistakes. During the match, they give their mistakes no attention whatsoever.

They nearly lost the match against China having to come back from a deficit to win the second set. The score never mattered, only the next point as they aggressively went after it. All of their opponents displayed frustration when they made mistakes.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica had been beaten by his fellow countryman several times this year. But everything about Usain exuded confidence and a belief in himself that this race was his to win. And that he did. Both in the 100 and 200 meters.

Takeaway: Practice unrelenting optimism, even when the chips are down. Focus solely on your next move.

Disappointment can be premium fuel.

Champions only let the past influence their future if the past is favorable.

In post race interviews, victorious athletes mention confidence gained in a previous race or heat. If a previous performance was disappointing, they focus their responses only on the effort needed to win now.

Michael Phelp’s disappointing first swim could have discharged his energy. The world questioned whether he should have come back after his success in Beijing. Phelps could have panicked with the burning uncertainty of his career finale. He could have let Ryan Lochte’s gold medal performance stamp out his personal flame.

But Phelps knew how to turn disappointment into fuel. He didn’t waffle in his commitment to the task. No re-thinking past decisions. (In his case, the decision to compete in London). His focus remained only on what was within his control at the moment.

Takeaway: Practice directing your focus intentionally instead of letting circumstances guide your thoughts and emotions. Don’t let disappointment cause you to re-visit your decision to commit.

Add contribution to participation for the ultimate victory.

Individual medals are paramount in the Olympic games, especially when it comes to sponsorships and career building after the Olympics conclude.

Yet the most memorable celebrations were champion teams. I’ve never seen Phelps and Lochte as celebratory as they were after the relay victory with their teammates. When the US soccer team kicked that final, amazing goal in overtime against Canada, there was enough adrenaline to fill a pool.

When you put the best athletes together with one finish line, something magical happens. Not only does each individual athlete want to perform his best, he also wants to contribute to the greater whole.

When the USA women’s gymnastics and swim relay teams took the gold, they couldn’t stop hugging long enough to speak. Team victories are stacked celebrations. The honor to be chosen, the contribution¬†to teammates’ successes, and the opportunity to cheer on your friends to their personal bests.

Takeaway: Find a way to contribute in your sport. Play on a team, volunteer, be a pacer, race with a friend. 

The Olympic podium is packed with people you can’t see.

U.S. gymnast, Aly Raisman, placed her gold medal around her coach’s neck.

When Allison Felix won the 200 in Track & Field, she was asked how she turned her previous silver medals to gold in this Olympics. She stated, “I’m a people pleaser. I had to get comfortable with being more selfish in order to achieve this goal.”

No one becomes a champion alone. The sacrifice and dedication of loved ones and coaches is the foundation from which these athletes maximize their potential.

Takeaway: Don’t sugar coat or mislead others about your commitments to personal achievement. Win or lose, express gratitude for their support and sacrifice. If you show pride in yourself, they will be proud of you.

*****

After the women’s soccer team was awarded the gold medal, the commentators described the entire tournament as a display of “Olympism.”

Olympism is a state of mind. A philosophy of life that is based on the joy found in effort, setting a good example, and respecting your opponent.

Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee athlete from South Africa didn’t make the finals of the 400m. So the winner, Kirani James, switched bibs with him as a sign of respect and support of Pistorius.

Competition in harmony with peacefulness and human dignity. Olympism at its best.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Michael Phelps quoting Dr. Suess

 

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