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Success Lessons from the Olympics

by David DeFord

The Olympic Games represent the ultimate in athletic triumph, the pinnacle of sports achievement. By watching the world’s best athletes vie for the gold medals, we can find inspiration for our own quests for success.

We love to see the triumphant celebration of a competitor as he captures the gold. We feel moved when a winner stands at the podium with tears running down her cheeks as she sings along to her national anthem. And we marvel as the fierce competitors, who moments ago were locked in a struggle to conquer each another, now embrace and congratulate each other in a spirit of goodwill and sportsmanship.

We stand in awe at the precision required to succeed in the Olympic Games. One hundredth of a second separates a medal winner from a fourth place swimmer. A momentary bent knee means serious point reduction for a gymnast competing on the high bar.

We weep when we hear the personal stories of athletes who overcome terrible afflictions and opposition to lift themselves to the top of their sport. Polio victim Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in track at the 1960 Olympic Games. She also won gold in 1956; just seven years after her leg braces had been removed. Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Garner again qualified to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens after he lost a toe and nearly lost his feet and hands when he was stranded for eighteen hours in subfreezing temperatures.

Some Olympic athletes are considered failures if they don’t win six to eight gold medals, while others experience the greatest of thrills by just qualifying to compete.

Many of the challengers dedicate their performance to a recently deceased parent or coach. They find a higher purpose in their pursuit of the ultimate achievement.

Achievement does not always shine in the public spotlight. It will not always qualify as world class. We will not always sit atop the summit of our professions. But we can learn from those who have reached the top.

Enjoy the Striving
The Olympic contenders teach us that we can find great joy in vigorously striving to perform at our top form. We can enjoy the journey from our current place in life to our highest potential. Great joy can be found in the effort, not just in the attainment.

Make Continual Improvements
These gifted athletes teach us that we can make major improvements in our performance by paying attention to the little inefficiencies and flaws that hold us back. We can practice, evaluate, seek coaching, and study as we strive for improvement.

Overcome Our Challenges
Rather than allowing our challenges to foil our dreams, we can overcome them. Calling upon our strength of character, our dogged persistence, and our steely determination, we can propel ourselves past obstacles and on to victory.

Reach Our Full Potential
We have all received our own unique gifts and talents. With these capabilities comes responsibility. We must use them, improve them, and channel them toward personal achievement and toward lifting others. As we apply our talents toward a worthy end, we find life’s fullest joy.

Find Our Highest Purpose
Just as some Olympic athletes dedicate their performances to recently deceased mentors, so we can find higher purposes for ours. We will strive harder to achieve financial success if our children’s’ educations depend on us. We will push ourselves harder to improve our performances if we know we must succeed for a purpose of utmost importance.

Act Graciously in Triumph and Defeat
We can remain humble and approachable in high achievement. Our success does not entitle us to treat others with less respect. Everyone is a child of God and each deserves gracious treatment. We can use our acquired status to help lift others and to encourage them on their own paths to success.

Likewise, we can be gracious in defeat. Along the way every athlete loses contests in which they compete. We all do. One important test of our characters comes when we fail. Can we remain kind to those who fire us? Can we speak in positive terms about one who has spread gossip about us? Can we treat with respect one who receives the promotion we sought?

Learning life lessons from the success of the greatest achievers in any endeavor will strengthen and improve our own successes and achievements. Seek inspiration from any source you can find.

Never Give Up
In the 2004 games in Athens, we saw three examples of athletes who seemed to have no chance to win but who kept their composure, and pressed forward until they triumphed. On successive evenings Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson won the gold medals for overall gymnastics competition after trailing by wide margins early on. The next night, Michael Phelps closed a huge margin between him and the leader and ultimately touched the finish wall two hundredths of a second before his friend and teammate Ian Crocker. At times, we will find ourselves very far from our desired successes. We will hear from others that we cannot achieve our desired goals. But if we press forward, ignoring the naysayers who heckle from the sidelines, and push toward our dreams, we can surely obtain them.

Related Offerings

"The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done." Arnold Palmer

"The difference between whether you say, 'I wish I would have,' or 'I'm glad I did,' at the end of your life is whether or not you take decisive action during your life." Chris Widener

"The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back." Abigail Van Buren

"Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen." Peter Marshall

“Life is a competition not with others, but with ourselves. We should seek each day to live stronger, better, truer lives; each day to master some weakness of yesterday; each day to repair a mistake; each day to surpass ourselves.” David B. Haight

"Behind every success is a succession of failures." Rick Beneteau

"Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's when you've had everything to do, and you've done it." Margaret Thatcher

"One of the great lessons I've learned in athletics is that you've got to discipline your life. No matter how good you may be, you've got to be willing to cut out of your life those things that keep you from going to the top." Bob Richards

Related Offerings

Awaken the Olympian Within: Stories from America's Greatest Olympic Motivators
by John Naber
A collection of twenty-seven inspirational essays written by many of Americas most successful motivational speakers. The authors share more than 30 Olympic gold and 57 medals overall. As a group they are the most articulate spokespeople in the Olympic movement, addressing professional crowds across the country, year in and year out, in some cases are the gold medals they earn today.
They include top medal winners, leaders of the Olympic movement, Olympic team captions and flagbearers elected by their peers. In most cases they also serve as experts for their sports on television broadcasts. The stories theyve written will variously inspire and inform the reader on a wide selection of character traits and decisions shared by the Olympian in each of us.
Featuring...Greg Barton, Jeff Blatnick, Milt Campbell, Nadia Comaneci & Bart Conner, Tim Daggett, Mike Eruzione, Eric Flaim, Pam Fletcher, Dick Fosbury, Rowdy Gaines, Matt Ghaffari, Paul Gonzales, Brian Goodell, Nancy Hogshead, Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Justin Huish, Dan Jansen, Al Joyner & Florence Griffith Joyner, Karch Kiraly, Henry Marsh, Ann Meyers-Drysdale, John Naber, Terry Schroeder, Bonny Warner, Sinjin Smith, Cathy Turner and Peter Vidmar.

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