7 Success Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Coverage of the Olympics Games from Tokyo 2020 might leave you in awe of the athletes’ abilities. But they’re also mentally tough individuals who have overcome many challenges just to get to the Games. Their stories may inspire how you run your business.

1. Don’t give up.

Swimmer Maggie MacNeil of London, Ont., won her first individual medal—gold—in the women's 100-metre butterfly. But she was actually in seventh place as she made her turn in the pool. That’s when she put on a burst of speed in a mighty second lap to clinch the victory. It was only at the end, as she bobbed her head out of the water to squint across at the results board, that she realized what she had accomplished.

2. Keep your pursuit of excellence in perspective.

The Tokyo opening ceremony included the sight of a lone woman running on a treadmill as a tribute to healthcare workers and an acknowledgement of the difficulties COVID-19 posed to athletes. The runner was Tsubata Arisa, a Japanese boxer and a nurse who trained around shifts to qualify for the Olympics, only to see the boxing qualifier cancelled in June due to COVID-19. She won’t be allowed to compete in this year’s games.

3. Partner up for greater success.

Divers Jennifer Abel and Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu won silver for executing five powerful and elegant dives—together. Abel, from Montreal, and Citrini-Beaulieu, from Châteauguay, Que., took the second-place spot in the women's synchronized three-metre springboard competition. The two joined forces in 2017 and found their chemistry as a duo lead to competition wins.

4. Be resilient.

While all athletes competing at the games have overcome adversity, special mention can be made of the refugee team participating in their second Olympics after Rio 2016. Made up of 29 refugees who had to flee from 11 countries, the team marched into the Tokyo opening ceremony under the auspices of the Olympic flag. They will compete in 12 sports.

5. Appreciate any wins.

In Tokyo, judoka Jessica Klimkait from Whitby, Ont., earned a bronze medal in the Under-57 Kilogram competition. She also won a place in the record books as the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in judo.

A 1995 study analyzed the facial expressions of Olympians at medal ceremonies who captured gold, silver and bronze, and concluded that bronze medallists are happier than silver medallists. The theory is that bronze medallists are thrilled to have earned a hard-won place on the podium at all, while silver medallists imagine they could have won gold.

6. Build your team for now and future years.

Recruiting and training a team of swimmers—like building a business team—might mean thinking ahead to develop competitive strength for future athletic competitions.

Swimmer Aurélie Rivard of St-Jean-sur Richelieu, Que., will lead the swim team at the Paralympics, scheduled to happen from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, 2021. Rivard won four medals at the Paralympics in Rio. Perhaps more importantly, she’s leading a team that won 14 medals at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. Of the 19 team members heading to Tokyo, 12 swam for Canada in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and won a total of seven medals. They hope to build on the experience for even greater success in Tokyo.

7. Take time to savour the moments.

Just as our pursuit of business goals means we don’t always have time to appreciate the small successes along the way, not all Olympic athletes have time to participate in the opening ceremony. That’s especially true if they’re competing shortly after the opening ceremony and need time to rest or train. Still, this is the Olympics—a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.

At the Tokyo Games, there were two Canadian flag bearers for the opening ceremony. Nathan Hirayama, a rugby player from Richmond, B.C., who plays on the men’s rugby sevens squad, told CBC News, "It's a massive honour to be asked to do this, especially alongside someone as decorated and (who) has had the kind of career Miranda has had." Miranda Ayim, a basketball player from Chatham, Ont., is competing at her third Olympics and plans to retire after this year, making this her last chance to enjoy the Olympic experience.

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