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5 Lessons from the Olympics in Rio | Grady Pruitt


Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been enjoying watching the Olympic games in Rio.  I’ve always enjoyed watching them in part because of all the great stories that can provide wonderful inspiration.  So today, I thought I would share 5 lessons to remember from the Games.  While I could use stories from just about any Olympics, I’ll share examples from this one.


5.  Even when you fail, keep competing!


Monday night (August 15th), I watched the gymnastic balance beam finals.  Simone Biles was expected to win gold easily. But a mistake early in her routine nearly caused her to fall and was only able to stay on the beam by grabbing it — something that while not as much of a deduction as falling off, would cost major points  that would have been needed for gold.  After making the mistake, though, she quickly recovered, refocused, and pushed on, completing the rest of the routine nearly flawlessly.  Still, the error in her routine left her score so low that she had to wait to see what would happen.


See, when we make mistakes in what we’re trying to do, it’s easy to give up.  It’s easy to dwell on the mistake and have that affect the rest of what we’re trying to do.  What is hard is to move forward, knowing that we have made a major mistake, and pushing forward still trying to the best we can.  Sometimes, we may have to wait to see how that mistake affects us, but if we keep trying, we still have a chance.


A few days earlier, I was a little disgusted by a clip that I saw.  It was a clip of a gymnast who effectively “forfeited” by just doing enough to mount, but then immediately dropping off on two separate events.  Although I heard some stuff later that may have dismissed this, when I first saw it, I was really disappointed at this forfeit.  The reason why is because it made it seem as if the athlete wasn’t even trying to win or compete.  If you don’t even try, you won’t even have a chance at winning anything.


On Tuesday, I was heartbroken for Kerry Walsh and April Ross.  Up until the semifinal match they played against the Brazilians, Kerry had only lost 2 SETS in 4 Olympics.  Not Matches, SETS.  She had not lost a match, winning 3 golds.  For Rio, she teamed with someone she had beat in London, and her new partner had only lost the one match to Kerry and her old partner, taking the silver.  While the semifinal game was a tough one, they fell short and lost.  Yet in a post game interview, they acknowledge their mistakes and said they weren’t done, that they were going to come back out and compete hard because they still have a chance to win bronze.  


As for Simone, she watched nervously as gymnast after gymnast competed on the balance beam, wondering if she had a shot.  A couple of gymnasts fell off the beam completely. The one from the Netherlands completed a nearly flawless routine, taking the lead.   Simone’s teammate also dazzled, but fell just short of the leader, leaving Simone in third.  One final gymnast could have knocked her off the podium, and with it being a home favorite, it would be tough.  But the final gymnast had a lower starting score and a routine that while inspiring to the home crowd, fell just short of knocking Simone out of third.  By not giving up, Simone Biles still managed to earn a bronze medal after making a huge mistake.


4. Show respect for your “competitors”


As I was scrolling through Facebook Tuesday, I came across  a great video.  Usain Bolt was giving an interview.  In the middle of the interview, he heard the anthem for the US being played.  He paused, and turned to face where they were doing the ceremony.  While the anthem  played, he showed great respect for a country he competed against.  When the anthem was over, he finished his interview.


One thing that seems to get lost, at times, is the idea of showing respect for your competitors.  Yet a simple gesture, such as the one displayed by Bolt, shows great sportsmanship.  Such a gesture can really garner respect.


In another event, Chad Le Clos had been taunting Michael Phelps.  4 years ago in London, Le Clos had just out touched Michael Phelps to take the gold in the 200 meter butterfly.  Rio was the first time they had competed against each other since London.  The semifinal heat was the first time they faced off against each other, and Phelps took second in the heat while Le Clos took third.  But in the finals, Phelps outswam the competition to claim gold.  Le Clos didn’t even medal in the event.  Later, the two faced each other again in the 100 meter butterfly and while another swimmer won the gold, Phelps and Le Clos tied with a third person for a rare 3 way tie for silver.  The two appeared to bury the hatchet as they acknowledged each other before getting out of the pool.


Even when the competition between you and a competitor has been fierce, show respect for them.  Recognize them for their achievements.  It can help to overcome bad feelings.


3. Do it because you love it


One of the most interesting stories in gymnastics is one of the women gymnast from Uzbekistan, Oksana Chusovitina.  At 41, she’s competing against gymnast younger than her 17 year old son.  Her first Olympics was in 1992.  But a part of what is remarkable about her story is all the obstacles that she’s overcome, from a country torn apart by war to helping her child fight Leukemia.  When asked why she keeps coming back, she says that it’s because she love the sport.


She’s not alone.  Other aging athletes from a number of sports have said a part of why they keep coming back is for the same reason.  Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in swimming, Kerry Walsh in beach volleyball, Jo Pavy in 10,000 meters and even Usain Bolt all expressed similar sentiments. (To be fair… a few of those are a bit younger, in their 30s, but still getting up there compared to others in their respective sports).


When you love to do something, it doesn’t seem like work.  Even if you aren’t the best at what you do, you feel honored to be in the company of those who are.  And when you are the best, you’re glad you’re still able to compete at a high level.  When you love what you do, you’ll do it just for fun, whether you win or lose.


2. Give it your all


One of my favorite moments of the Olympics so far was the night of the women’s individual all-around.  Going into the last event, floor exercise, she knew that she could get a silver medal with a great performance.  She went out and gave her all.  She put everything she had into that routine.  And when she landed her last tumbling pass, she knew she had secured a medal.  She could hardly contain her emotions as she left the mat.  Only a flawless routine by her teammate, Simone Biles, kept her from gold in the all around.  


In track, Allyson Felix ran to try to win her third gold medal in the Olympics in the 400 meter dash.  But it was a dive by Shaunae Miller that won the gold.  That last effort by Miller, when she had nothing left to give, won her the race.


When you compete at a high level, giving your all means you’re doing your very best.  Win or lose, if you have given it your all, you can be proud of what you have accomplished.  Remember, it’s not always just about competing to beat others.  It can be just as satisfying to beat what you have done before.


1. Set a goal, aiming high, and work to achieve it


Simone Biles set out to try to sweep the Olympics with gold medals.  She qualified to compete in all but one event.  She medaled in all 5 events she competed in.  And except for the one bronze she got on a routine where she made a major mistake, every other medal was gold.


Katie Ledecky set out to win 5 gold medals in swimming.  She got 4.  And a silver.


Michael Phelps wanted to increase his gold medal count and right some wrongs from London 4 years ago.  He won 5 gold medals and one silver — and crushed the competition in the one event he didn’t win in London.  


Usain Bolt set out to continue his dominance in the 100 meter and 200 meter dashes.  One is already secure.  He goes for the other later today.


Kerry Walsh set out to win her 4th straight gold medal in women’s beach volleyball.  A tough fought match against a Brazilian team handed her the first loss she ever suffered in Olympic play, but still has a chance to fight for bronze.


What do all of these stories have in common?  The athlete set out to achieve a high goal.  Something completely within their grasp.  And then tried to get it.  Did all of them reach their goals? Or even all the goals they wanted to achieve?  No.  But they tried.  And even when they fall short, they still achieve a great level of success.


When we can clearly define our goals, something that will stretch us yet is completely within our capabilities, and when we do our very best to try to achieve those goals, we will succeed.  Even if we fail to meet our objective, we will achieve a measure of success that is beyond what others have done.  It’s possible.  All we have to do is believe it.  Then go out there and get that dream.


My favorite all time Olympic moment


We still have a few days left of the Olympics as I write this post.  Some dreams could still come true.  Records will be set.  And win or lose, the athletes will have to go home, review their experiences, and see what they can do to improve themselves for the next challenge ahead.


But before I go, I want to leave you with my favorite moment in any Olympics that I’ve ever seen.  It’s a moment that when I talk about it or watch it again, I always start to tear up and get emotional.  Even though it’s been over 20 years since it happened.


In 1996 at the Olympic games in Atlanta, the team all around came down to Kerri Strug.  With a good vault, the team would win gold.  In her first vault, she landed wrong and injured her foot.  There was some question on whether she needed to do a second vault.  Unsure as to whether it would be needed or not, she decided to perform it.  She nailed the landing, immediately hopping to one foot to salute the judges, and securing the gold for the US.


Looking back, maybe she didn’t need that second vault.  We’ll never really know.  But the grit, the determination, and the strength of will Strug displayed in landing a vault, practically one footed, to win gold has vaulted her (pun intended) into one of the most memorable performances in Olympic history.


What’s your favorite moment from the Olympics in Rio?  What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from watching the athletes compete?  What’s your favorite moment from any Olympics?  Fee free to share them in the comments below!

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