Episode 316: The Olympic Spirit: Faster, Higher, Stronger

Episode Summary

Today’s episode is about pouring the Olympic spirit into our personal and professional lives. We travel back to 2002 when the Tabernacle Choir performed John Williams’ “Call of the champions” during the Winter Olympics to listen to its inspiring sound and take a moment to nurture our most profound desires of becoming our best. We also go through three of the most significant lessons we can learn from the Olympics and explore how to translate them into our lives.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. The Olympic Games are once again upon us. They’re now being played in China. And in 2002, the Winter Olympics were being held in my home state in Salt Lake City, Utah. You could feel the electricity in the air as athletes and spectators, family and friends gathered here from all over the world. The opening ceremony for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics happened literally this very week, 20 years ago, and it was televised to an estimated audience of 3.5 billion people. It was interesting because one of the thrilling and integral parts of the celebration were the various performers from around the world including the famous Tabernacle at Temple Square. They participated in a number of things, and they have a unique language ability. And so, they sang some of their songs in English, Greek, Latin, and German. It was interesting because as the US flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center, was carried into the Olympic Stadium to a hushed crowd, the Choir sang a moving rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” accompanied by the Utah Symphony. Later in the program, the two ensembles performed “Call of the Champions,” the 2002 Olympic theme composed especially for the Winter Olympics by five-time Oscar-winning composer John Williams. The theme was used repeatedly during coverage of the Olympics. So many of us were volunteers and attended the opening and closing ceremonies. We were there! Oh, my goodness, it was amazing. And the performance of the Choir in this mighty stadium made the hair on your neck stand up. I can still hear the words of the Choir during that call of the champions: “Citius, Altius, Fortius!” from the traditional Olympic motto which are Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger!” filling the crisp winter air. I am not sure I would ever be the same again. One of the things that I thought about at that time in the stadium was what was my personal and professional “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, which really represents: What does your best, that is yet to be, look like? And I remember thinking: In my modest way, how can I do better in my life. What does my “faster, higher, stronger” — my Citius, Altius, and Fortius — look like? Today, that is what we dedicate this podcast to — the Olympic spirit — and invite you to reflect on your Citius, Altius, and Fortius personally, in your relationships, and in your professional or advocation.

To get us going, I would like to take you back to the 2002 Olympics and one of the performances by the Tabernacle Choir — it is the “Call of the Champions.” It takes six minutes, but it’s going to be worth every single moment. And I’d like to play it for you now. And as you listen to this performance, we invite you to think about your best that is yet to come; what inspires you. This is the spirit of Becoming Your Best. And in this Olympics of life, it is about your best, no one else’s. Just quietly and sweetly listen to your feelings. Think of your various roles in life: You, personally; your relationships with your spouse or partner, your family and friends; professionally; and in the community. What ideas of your Citius, Altius, and Fortius come to mind? Transform those into your goals for this year. May you enjoy this experience and this performance.

There are many lessons that you and I can learn from the Olympics. Don’t you just love that inspiring rendition, the “Call of the Champions”? Here are three lessons that I’ve learned, and perhaps you will enjoy as well and can relate to.

Number one is — this is the spirit of the Olympics — having an inspiring dream and vision for your life. If you think about all those athletes, and all those people that participate, they started all of this with a dream, with this vision. First, the idea, then a deliberate action, which turns the dreams and vision into a reality. So, I think that’s one of the first lessons is being open to your dreams, to your vision, what can be.

Number two is the importance of having a plan, and going to work to realize your vision and plan. It’s learning, practicing, competing, and honing your skills. I love the book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, where he talked about one of the ways to become your best is to do something 10,000 hours – that seemed to be the magical level where people took things to a whole new level. And all of the while, in the middle of that learning, practicing, competing, and honing your skills, realizing that you can have joy and happiness in the process and the journey. So, I think that’s the second lesson learned by all of us.

So, the first one is having a dream, having this vision; the second is going to work on it, just building the skill through the practice. And the third one, I think, is a lesson from the Olympics, from every one of these athletes that we see. And I think all of these athletes share all three of these: vision, going to work and practicing and honing your skills, and putting in the hours.

Number three is they have a positive winner’s attitude. Failure breeds success. You don’t give up. You persevere. You keep learning, growing, and adapting. You discipline your mind and attitude to keep going. You understand that discipline leads to confidence, and confidence leads to achievement. You surround yourself with people that help you stay motivated. Sharing your dreams and your goals with those that count. And the end result is that you have the satisfaction of achieving greatly.

Well, through Becoming Your Best, this Olympic spirit, it helps you to relate to the inspirational poem shared by Teddy Roosevelt:

“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man – and of course, woman – who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; and who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Don’t you love that quote? It’s so inspirational. So today, I wish to share two brief Olympics stories that illustrate lessons that you and I can learn from the spirit of the Olympics that we see over and over. The type that I just talked about: dreams and vision, going to work and putting it into practice hour after hour, and maintaining a positive, wonderful attitude of never giving up; of moving forward; of discipline; of confidence; of achievement. The first lesson that I’d like to use today is from Derek Redmond, one of the elite speedrunners in history. Derek’s event was the 400 meters. And the story I’m going to share actually took place in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Derek was one of the top 400 meter athletes in the world at the time, and what an accomplishment that is in itself. His dream was to win the Olympic gold. He was favored in this event that day. Derek Redmond’s running career was not without its heartbreak and challenges. In 1988, Redmond was forced to withdraw from the opening heat of the Olympics on this very event, the 400-meter contest, only two minutes before the race was scheduled, because of an injury. So, think of that heartbreak. And now, here we are four years later in Barcelona, everything seemed to be coming together for Redmond at last. He was running well: he recorded the fastest time of the first round and he won his quarterfinal heat. As he settled into the blocks for the start of his semifinal race, Redmond’s thoughts turned to his father, Jim, and the support he had always given Derek. Derek got off to a clean start and was running smoothly when, at about 150m into the race, he felt a searing pain go down his right leg as his right hamstring muscle tore and he fell to the ground.

When he saw the stretcher-bearers rushing towards him, he knew he had to finish the race. Redmond jumped up and began hobbling forward despite the pain he felt. His father broke through the security out of the stands and joined him on the track. Hand in hand, shoulder in shoulder, with Derek sobbing, they continued. And just before the finish, Jim let his son go and Derek completed the course on his own, as the crowd of 65,000 gave him a standing ovation.

We happened to be delivering, years later, a seminar in Texas, and a woman raised her hand. And we had shared the Derek Redmond story, and she said, “I was there. I was on the US Olympic swim team and we’d finished our event. And we were looking for another event and heard the noise in the stadium. And so we went in and took our seat in a packed house. We saw this race of Derek Redmond and the standing ovation that Derek received.” She touchingly shared that there was not a dry eye in the stadium that day.

It appeared that Derek’s dream was shattered, but now 30 years later, we remember his example of being a finisher — a “faster, higher, and stronger” for him. And it’s not always about winning the goal, it’s about doing your best, your “faster, higher, and stronger.”

The last example I’d like to use from among many Olympic examples that I’ve chosen is from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a thriller. As a matter of fact, it was Jason Lezak and the greatest relay leg of all time that gives us the opportunity to think about this example today. Think about the things we’ve talked about: dreams, putting in the price, and having the attitude and the impact that this has that allows us to go “faster, higher, and stronger” in our own lives. Well, for Jason Lezak, a member of the swim team, and the Americans the storyline couldn’t have been more perfect. That summer in Beijing, on the first night of the swimming events at the Water Cube, it was shaping up to be an old-fashioned battle royale between the sport’s biggest heavyweights. The French, led by Alain Bernard, who was the world record holder in the individual 100-meter freestyle, had been boasting in the lead up to the Olympics, that they would “smash” the Americans. In the lead-off, that evening, for the United States at the finals would be Michael Phelps, who would need a gold medal if he hoped to best the record set by Mark Spitz of 7 gold medals in one set of games way back in 1976.

A tense silence fell over the crowd as the finalists mounted the blocks. The first leg of the race set the stage for what was to come. Phelps in lane 4 would take out in a blistering 47.51, setting a new American record. However, it was Australia who had the lead behind Sullivan‘s world record-setting 47.24. And the French, number three, were in hot pursuit. Over the following two legs, the French would catch up and pass the Americans. And as the third leg of the French team, Bousquet, he came to the wall, their fourth person on the team, the 6’5 Bernard awaited on the blocks with a comfortable lead in hand. At this point, the race could have been over. It should have been over. Jason Lezak, with a 3/4 body length deficit leading into the anchor leg, was given the herculean task of catching the man who until 3 minutes earlier was the fastest ever man in the 100m freestyle. While Lezak was never an individual world record holder, he had placed prominently on the international podiums in the 100m freestyle for nearly ten years leading into Beijing. He’d been the American record holder in the event for a considerable amount of time, and was a veteran on the National team with two previous Olympic appearances under his belt in 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Athens.

So, for the Americans, who had held a strangle-hold on this event for 7 straight Olympics until the South Africans and Australians won it in 2000 and 2004, it was an opportunity to re-assert their dominance over this event. And in a race that was so fast that two world records, the 4×100 freestyle record was left in tatters, they were beat just in these first three laps that they’d gone. No one could have predicted the nail-biting tenor that it would take, with most analysts predicting a swift and decisive French victory. Even Rowdy Gaines, generally the eternal Team USA optimist, didn’t see how the Americans could pull it off, and it wasn’t until his fellow color commentator noticed Lezak with about 30m to swim closing in on the big Frenchman did Gaines’ enthusiasm take a rapid U-turn.

One of the oldest swimming tactics in the book, drafting is the opportunity of one swimmer to brush up against the lane-line of a fellow competitor and hitch a ride on the swell that the leading swimmer is providing. A little too far behind, and you are swimming in their wash. A little too close, and the effect is negated. So, when Lezak dove into the water, he emerged right at Bernard’s hip, putting him at a perfect distance to ride the massive rolling wake created by the Frenchman. And while Bernard churned his way down the first 50m of the final leg, Lezak quite literally hitched a free lift, putting himself in position to stage the unlikely comeback.

At 350m the race looked over. For all intents and purposes, it was over. After all, nobody could predict what would happen next. And with 25m to go, Bernard began to tighten up, and Lezak was starting to cover some ground stroke by stroke, breath by breath, until the two swimmers were nearly even coming in under the flags. And with Phelps and teammate Garrett Weber-Gale on the blocks screaming Lezak on, the 32-year-old barreled into the finish, just barely surging past the hulking Frenchman to win gold, touching off a firestorm of celebration behind the US blocks. Lezak’s final split? An absolutely insane 46.06, easily the fastest relay split ever.

What you don’t know is the story behind the scenes as Lezak went into that final lap. He was saying to himself, as he saw the situation next to him, “No way. No way. No way.” And just before he went into that final turn, he said to himself, “Everybody’s counting on me: my teammates, my family, my country.” And he changed his language and his thoughts into “No quit! No quit! No quit!” And this changed everything. And it is still difficult to fathom the distance that he made up to win and go ahead and set Olympic history as he won by a fingertip.

Today, as we finish up this podcast, I’d like to play a one-minute clip of that finish.

“Faster, higher, stronger.” We can all learn from the Olympic spirit in Becoming Your Best as we celebrate the Olympics past, today, and in the future. May they remind you and me of the Olympic spirit of “faster, higher, and stronger” in your life. This is Steve Shallenberger wishing you the very best today and always.

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.
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