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Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I Have Learnt from Olympic Athletes

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the London Olympics in the past two weeks. I love the Olympics not just because the Games produce dazzling athletic performances and promote cultural interaction. Another reason is I believe sporting achievements teach us valuable lessons about life.

Olympians have sacrificed a lot to compete at the Olympic level. Then in the Olympic arena, they again have to overcome all sorts of obstacles to realize their potential. When you see them compete whether they shine or disappoint what you see is only a small part of their Olympic journey.

Indeed, there is a story behind every Olympian. Some of the stories are especially inspirational and life-affirming. Here are three athletes that have inspired me in the 2012 Olympics:
1) The King of the Pool Michael Phelps

Four years ago in Beijing, Phelps looked invincible in his historic medal haul. But the greatest swimmer of all time didn’t have a good start in this year’s Olympics.

After a fourth place finish in the 400m individual medley, Phelps suffered more disappointments in the 4x100m freestyle relay and the 200m butterfly, finishing second in both events. Sure, two silvers are quite an accomplishment for almost any other athlete, but Phelps has set such a high standard for himself with eight golds in Beijing.

The media started to question his form. But Phelps regrouped and won the next two races the 200m individual medley and the 100m butterfly becoming the first male swimmer to win the same individual event in three successive Olympics. Hes now the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals, 18 of which are golds.

What Phelps showed us is that one bad performance doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes. Nor does it mean your best is behind you. Don’t lose faith because of a bad performance. Figure out what’s wrong, improve yourself and aim to do better next time. Phelps has demonstrated this positive mindset perfectly in the London Olympics. 
2) The Judo Fighter Kayla Harrison
When shea kid, Harrison already loved judo and excelled in it. Shes set to be a top judo athlete, but for a period of her life, judo brought her a lot of painful memories.

In her teens, Harrison was sexually abused by her judo coach. She thought of quitting the sport so she could forget the trauma and start a new life. But with the support of her new coach and her family, she successfully overcame the traumatic experience and continued to pursue her passion. Shes found a way to enjoy the sport again and become the first American to win an Olympic gold in judo.

Its remarkable how Harrison has turned a tragedy into a defining moment that strengthens her character. Shes shown that humans are courageous and resilient beings with the potential to rise triumphantly even in the bleakest circumstances.
As I remember a line from the TV show House, “People don’t get what they deserve. They just get what they get.” True, the world isn’t always fair. But while you can’t control what happens to you, you can always choose how to respond to trauma and tragedies. And your response will make a world of difference.
3) Gymnastics Sweetheart Jordyn Wieber
Wieber, a member of the U.S. Gymnastics team, is the reigning world all-around champion and was one of the favorites to win gold in the Olympics. Despite placing 4th in the qualifications, she couldn’t advance to the all-around final (in which 24 athletes take part) due to the two-gymnasts-per-country rule. Bitterly disappointed, Wieber couldn’t hold back her tears.

But the 17-year-old didn’t dwell on the disappointment. She moved on and bounced back very well. Two days later, she gave a strong performance to help USA win a gold medal in the team final.

Wieber showed great mental strength and didn’t let past mistakes impede future success. It’s a reminder to all of us: We can’t change the past but the future is still in our hands, and the future is what we should focus on.

In the all-around final, Wieber again showed class though she’s unable to compete. She cheered for teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman on the stands, and sent Douglas a congratulatory tweet after she won the event. It’s a gracious act of sportsmanship to appreciate and applaud for your competitors.

Olympians show focus, dedication, and persistence. While enjoying their athletic performances, we can learn from their attitudes and become a better personI’ll cover two other inspirational Olympic athletes in the next entry. Please stay tuned!
Questions: What lessons have you learnt from the Olympics? Is there any athlete(s) that you consider to be a role model or an inspiration? 
(Entry 1 of 3 in the Lessons from the 2012 Olympics series) 


  1. Well-picked inspirational figures. I'm not a fan of any athlete in particular, but watching them as they show perseverance and sportsmanship has indeed added values to the Games. On overcoming one's fear, I guess everyone has their story to share. People should know that we are not the only 'special ones' in the world and that many people have come a long way to become who they are today- be it our family, our friends or our colleagues.

  2. Thank you, Banbi. =]
    You're right. Sometimes people have the impression that success is about a lucky hunch or a lucky opportunity and that it happens overnight.
    But the truth is most successful people have overcome many obstacles and prepared themselves for a long time before they rise to fame and success.