There are few things left to be said about the spectacular Olympics we just witnessed in London.
The 10,000 athletes all had Olympic dreams. Some were realized, while others had their hopes dashed as they fell short of their goals.
As Americans, we had overwhelming reasons to be proud of our top-flight athletes, even when they didn’t bring home medals. Anyone who viewed the events, either at home or in person, couldn’t help but be impressed.
I have been attending every summer Olympics for 40 years. And I think the 17 days my wife and I spent in London were probably the most electrifying of all. I have watched athletes young and old exhibit a level of concentration and dedication that astonishes me. And I always learn a thing or two, frequently not related to sports.
For me, the Olympics are a metaphor for how to succeed in life and business. Of the 40 events we attended, these were my favorites:
- Persistence will win the day. When 15-year-old Katie Ledecky dove in for the 800-meter freestyle race, she was hardly the favorite. Commentators feared she had too fast a start and wouldn’t be able to sustain her lead. All she knew was that she was swimming the race of her young life. The youngest member of the American Olympic delegation had to swim for a half-mile and maintain an exhausting pace to beat the crowd favorite, Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington. And she looked fabulous with a gold medal draped around her neck.
- Teamwork is essential for success. The USA men’s basketball team of elite all-stars are accustomed to being the center of attention on their NBA teams. They spend their regular seasons trying to beat each other on their opposing teams. In order to defeat Spain for the gold, they had to contain their egos and deliver their best efforts – together. As they mounted the awards platform with arms linked, they demonstrated their commitment to teamwork and to their country.
- Follow your passion. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings had already won gold at the last two Olympics in beach volleyball, and contemplated whether the London games were in their future. But despite the other plans each pursued, the Olympics were never far away from their thoughts.
- Work as hard as you can, then work harder. The games are full of stories of athletes who defied all odds to be able to compete. What could be more inspiring than watching South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated before his first birthday? To me, this was without question the most amazing event to watch.
- You are the only one who can limit your potential. Michael Phelps got off to a disappointing start, finishing fourth in an event that he should have dominated. Was that a wakeup call for the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time? He came shining through, medaling in the rest of his events. He is the proud owner of a record 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold.
- Set goals. Usain Bolt was defeated in Jamaica’s Olympic finals in June, so he rededicated himself and became the greatest sprinter in Olympic history. He won the 100 meter and 200 meter races and anchored the men’s 4 x 100 meter relay, which set a world record.
- Visualize your dreams. The Fab Five of women’s gymnastics had a huge challenge against the Russian team. They knew that a single misstep could end their dreams. These athletes are too young to remember when the USA last won women’s gymnastics gold in 1996. But they all spoke of being inspired by the 2004 games – when they were about 8 years old – and their dreams of Olympic gymnastic success.
- You’ve gotta have a little fun. The pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies was magnificent, but is it really necessary? Absolutely! These celebrations are gigantic, larger-than-life events that are meticulously choreographed and executed to make sure everyone is having a great time. As much as I love the athletic competitions, I wouldn’t miss these two extravaganzas.
Mackay’s Moral: Maybe you can’t win a gold medal for your job, but you can still be a champion.