The Best Stories from the Olympics
By Jillian Broaddus and Chuck Cusumano
Earlier this month, the entire world watched over 10,000 athletes compete in the greatest cross-cultural demonstration of athletic achievement our planet has to offer: The Olympics!
For sixteen days every four years (or five, Covid-depending), hundreds of millions of people around the globe tune in to watch the best competitors perform the skill they’ve trained their entire lives for – everything from synchronized swimming to speed-walking to sand volleyball. It’s a moment of heightened nationalism, uniting patriotism, and a reminder that hard work, discipline, and perseverance pay off.
However, the true magic of the Olympics debatably comes in the moments that focus on something other than the sheer talent of the athletes. Sure – the A-team winning gold on 129-degree sand, or Suni Lee taking top place in the all-around gymnastics final sparked headlines, camaraderie, and enthusiasm amongst American viewers back home. However, would those medals be so special to onlookers without the backstories that preceded them? Namely, the A-team’s positive attitudes, and Suni’s steadfastness and gratitude? Probably not…
If you don’t know the backstory, the “A-team” refers to April Ross and Alix Klineman, two beach volleyball players who defeated Australia in two straight sets for the gold. While Ross is a veteran to Olympic medals, Klineman was new to the sport. However, Ross noted her passion and focus as fueling her fast-track to the top, saying, “Alix did study the game more than anyone else I’ve ever known. She’d go home and watch a ton of video, and I’d be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go home and watch video, too.’” This passion to be the best and make one another better translated well on the court, too. The duo was known for their enthusiasm and communication in the stadium – even more noticeable in the empty stands.
Additionally, the pair was focused on constant improvement – even under the blistering sun in between moments of competition. They maximized the hour-long warm-up period before each and every game, noting that they were “practicing – not warming up,” right up to the starting whistle.
“When you’re working for something like this, you need someone who is going to work their butt off every day,” Ross said.
Another athlete who isn’t a stranger to working hard? Suni Lee, who instantly became a household name after claiming the gold medal for the women’s all-around gymnastics final. After stepping up when Simone Biles dropped out of the team and all-around events, Suni expressed the hardships she, too, faced in her final speech: “There was a point in time when I wanted to quit.”
That point was when her father – her greatest supporter, and the man who built her a balance beam in the backyard when the family couldn’t afford one – fell off a ladder and ended up paralyzed. It happened just two days before the 2019 National Championships. However, with her father’s encouragement and voice in the back of her mind, Suni continued to compete – and excel.
Upon her win, she reiterated, “This is our dream and this is our medal… He sacrificed everything to put me in gymnastics.”
This, ultimately, is the magic of the Olympics. Feel-good stories, fueled by passionate people, dedicated do-ers, and unstoppable underdogs. It’s why we watch, why we relate, and why we see a little bit of the Olympians in all of us. And, finally, it’s a reminder that you, too, can achieve gold – perhaps not on the Olympic stage, but in your own life and leadership – if only you have the right attitude, gratitude, and motivation!
Additionally, what can these lessons from the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics teach us when it comes to leading others well? Think about it from a hiring perspective: it can seem straightforward to screen candidates for discipline and perseverance. Any resume can highlight these well-regarded attributes to becoming a top performer. However, to really have an engaged team with a great culture, you need to understand the backstories of your team members. What got them to where they are today? Who supports their dreams? What is their "why"? Only once you and your team members know each others' backstories can you really have the right attitude, genuine gratitude, and the correct motivation to create a gold-winning organization!
If you need any guidance on your way to gold, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.