I am a fan of the Olympics because of the drama. Anything can happen, stars fade or fall, the no-name becomes a household name, the underdog always has a shot.The Sochi Olympics has been a great example of this.
I have been inspired by the athletes’ levels of commitment and determination, their ability to rise above pain, the unmuted desire to win and the life lessons learned from two minutes on the track, the hill, or the ice.
Here are five lessons I learned from the Sochi Olympics:
1. Joy is only fully expressed when shared with and for others. That was never more evident than at the medal ceremony for the men’s slopestyle snowboarding competition. You think being Canadian, what I would remember most was Mark McMorris won Canada’s first medal of the games, a bronze. I was excited for him, no doubt. Mark, a favorite going in, came back from cracked ribs and a fall that put him at the bottom of the leader board to get to the podium. Remarkable and inspiring, absolutely. But, watching American Sage Kotsenberg as McMorris got the bronze and Staale Sandbech from Norway got the silver medal , celebrating with an exuberance and joy that far exceeded expectations for any gold medal celebration, left a far deeper, memorable impression. In their vernacular, Kotsenberg was completely stoked that these two got medals as well. I have never seen an athlete so openly celebrate his opponents. His joy multiplied as he shared it and then spread around the globe as we watched. Can you imagine a world where we all did that?
2. Never let your surroundings determine who you want to be. There were several examples at the Sochi Olympics. We all know about the Jamaican bobsled team who had to raise a significant amount of funds to come back to compete at Sochi after a 12-year absence. The question remains, how do you dream about becoming a bobsledder on a Caribbean island?How do you go from beach to icy trail down the mountain?
Or, in Shiva Keshavan’s case, how do you know anything about luge in India? Keshavan trains weaving in and out of traffic on the Himalayan Highway on a modified sled that has wheels. It is insane. A video shows him barreling down the highway even swerving under a truck. How do you even come up with that? Then there is Mohammad Karim from Pakistan who learned to downhill ski on homemade equipment because they don’t ski there, they play cricket. Against all odds, without any of their country’s funding, support, or infrastructure for the sports they love, they made it to the Olympics. Can you imagine how much determination, perseverance, creativity, and just plain guts that takes? You have to super-size those things to take a big impossible dream and show the world it is possible after all. To paraphrase Victor Frankl, you may not be able to choose your circumstances, but you can always choose your attitude and your way. I am so inspired by the choices and the follow through that these athletes made.
3. There is unlimited power in paying it forward. In the 2006 Torino Olympics Canadian Sara Renner broke her ski pole halfway through the race making the hope for a medal slip away. A Norwegian coach gave her a pole which helped Sara win silver and actually bumped the Norwegian skier down to fourth. The Norwegian coach said he would rather be fourth in a fair race than in third by default (Can you say good sportsmanship? Can you say inspired?). In the Sochi Olympics, Sara’s husband (oh Karma is a sneaky one) and Canadian cross country skiing coach at Sochi, Justin Wadsworth, watched as Russian Anton Gafarov, a medal threat, crashed on the course and broke his ski. As he limped onwards toward the finish line the ski virtually disintegrated. Undaunted, Gafarov kept going on one ski. He was going to finish. Period. That was inspirational in itself. But what happened next was an example of a chain of good sportsmanship being passed on to a deserving candidate. Wadsworth got an extra ski, ran down to the course and exchanged it for the splintered wood. Although by this time Gafarov was totally out of contention, he skied and finished to a standing ovation from his home crowd. Wadsworth may not have helped Gafarov to a medal, but he did give him the opportunity for a great finish. Good sportsmanship. Good karma. Better world.
4. Sometimes by giving something away to another, you gain more than you can imagine. Canadian speed skater Gilmore Junio had his whole family at the Sochi Olympics to cheer him on. He had been training for four years. At Canadian trials the best hope for an Olympic medal in the 1000 meters was Denny Morrison, who crashed and failed to make the team. Instead Junio did. Elated at first, he soon realized that what was good for him, wasn’t the best for the team. He could use this race as experience for the next Olympics but lose Canada’s shot at a medal with Morrison who was expected to retire after the Olympics. This was big. It’s the Olympics. What do you do? Junio sent a text and the rest is history. Morrison not only won silver in the 1000 metre race, this sense of responsibility to Junio to win, coupled with his own determination and talent carried Morrison to a bronze medal performance in the 1500 metres as well. Without Junio giving away his spot, many people would never have known about him. He would have been a quiet finisher somewhere down the ranks, gaining experience for the Korea Olympics. Instead, he made the news around the world, is a Canadian hero, and there is a campaign to have him carry the flag in the closing ceremonies.
5. Winning comes down to who slows down the least. Kaillie Humphries, partners with Heather Moyse on the gold medal women’s bobsledding team at Sochi, said that in her sport, it is not about getting faster. You start at the top as fast as you can and the goal is to avoid any obstacles that will slow you down. If you watch the sport, you know that when they stray from the centre of the path, hit the wall, change directions and don’t go with the flow of the course, they lose speed. Lose too much speed and you lose period. Isn’t that just like life? Those that are in the flow, that don’t let obstacles slow them down, that keep focused in the direction of their goals, and stay the course, usually win. So, you want to know how to win in life? It is simple, just don’t slow down!
The Sochi Olympics, like all other Olympics in the past, puts athletes under intense pressure to put four years of training on the line for mere minutes of competition. It is under these conditions we can see what a true champion is. Whether they came in first or last, was a favorite or underdog , whether they even finished or not, the Olympics, like life, is always about finding and sharing your joy and passion, overcoming circumstances, being generous to others, doing the right thing, and not letting anything slow you down!
I am so proud, inspired, and grateful to be able to watch these athletes share the most important moments of their lives.
Thank you to each and every athlete for putting it all on the line at the Sochi Olympics.
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