I was watching the 2016 Summer Olympic Games with my family over the weekend. I can’t help but get caught up in everything they represent. There is a certain amount of patriotism that comes with each Olympics as we cheer on the athletes from the United States. I’m sure there are moments we can all remember from past Olympics that filled us with national pride. Maybe you, like me, are old enough to remember the “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. men’s hockey team beat the overwhelming favorite Russian team to advance to the gold medal game. My wife tells me that moment during the Cold War brought her father to tears. Or, for you, it might be another Olympic moment that fills you with national pride. (I’d love to hear about your favorite Olympic moment!)
But beyond the patriotism that comes with the Olympics, I’m also amazed with the athletes, some of whom are still teenagers, and what they represent. If you consider what they’ve done just to be an Olympic athlete, it can leave you awestruck. Here are just a few things we see when we watch the Olympics.
Hard work. These athletes have put in countless hours to become one of the world’s best at their sport. They must show up every day to practice their craft. All those hours when no one is watching or cheering, just to have that opportunity to compete. You don’t get to be one of the best in the world without hard work. Take Michael Phelps, the prolific U.S. swimmer. Phelps practices five to six hours a day six days a week. The 31-year-old is participating in his fifth Olympic games, so by my math, he has put in more than 25,000 hours of practice since his first Olympic appearance.
Dedication. Consider the sacrifice each athlete has made to even be in Rio. Some athletes move away from their families to receive the best coaching available. Others give up “normal” high-school activities like senior prom or Friday night football games to pursue their dreams of Olympic gold. The level of commitment these Olympic athletes demonstrate is astonishing.
Discipline. The consistently high level of training Olympic athletes must sustain for extended periods of time takes a tremendous amount of discipline. Olympic training isn’t a “some of the time” thing. It’s a constant effort over a long period—many athletes train four years to prepare for the next Olympic games.
Teamwork. Notice the camaraderie the athletes share. I heard that Michael Phelps, one of the captains of the U.S. swimming team, urged his teammates to sit together in the dining hall so they can encourage one another even away from the pool. I saw the U.S. female gymnasts cheering one another on even though they are competing against each other in addition to competing as a team. A lot of the sports at the Olympics are individual competitions, but there is still a “team” of coaches, parents, and others who contribute to the athletes’ success.
Adversity. Let’s face it—not everything always goes as planned or as the athlete hoped and dreamed. Do you remember American diver Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board in the 1988 Olympics? Despite suffering a concussion, he recovered from the accident and won two gold medals. Eric Heiden, the celebrated American speed skater who won five individual gold medals in the 1980 Olympics, almost fell halfway through his 1,500-meter race yet recovered to win by less than a tenth of a second. Both Louganis and Heiden were able to overcome adversity to win the gold.
Triumph. Do you remember American Greco-Roman superheavyweight Rulon Gardner? Gardner had never won a major wrestling title. He defeated his opponent in the gold medal match, Russian Aleksandr Karelin, who had never lost in 13 years. Karelin had won three consecutive Olympic gold medals and hadn’t even given up a point in the past 10 years. Sometimes the unbelievable happens in the Olympics.
There are lessons we all can learn from the Olympic athletes. And they’re certainly worth considering as we continue to look for ways to improve ourselves. We can all benefit from more hard work, discipline, and dedication. But for the next couple of weeks, let’s just enjoy the Olympics and cheer on the athletes who inspire us all.