But what we often don’t stop to consider are those who fail, stumble and crash in their quest. Sometimes they are able to overcome, but sometimes they are not. It is those athletes who may also provide lessons to the rest of us when we strive to reach the winner’s podium in our own careers.
So let’s consider some not-so-common inspirational stories of Olympic athletes and what they can teach us.
1. Eric Moussambani Malonga: A swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, he competed in the 100-meter freestyle swim competition in the 2000 Sydney games. He swam alone as both his opponents were disqualified for false starts. Having only learned to swim eight months earlier and practicing only in a lake, he could barely keep his head above water. But he managed to finish the race and set a new Equatoguinean national record. He became a national hero.
Lesson learned: Opportunities can come along when you least expect them, but learn to conquer your inner doubts and finish what you start.
2. John Stephen Akhwari: The marathon runner from Tanzania fell at the 19 kilometer point during the 42 kilometer race in the 1968 Mexico City games when other runners were jockeying for position. Despite dislocating his knee and injuring his shoulder, he continued to run and finished last. Completing the race in a nearly empty stadium after sunset, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Lesson learned: No job is done in a vacuum, so remember that others depend on you to follow through on your commitments.
3. Dorando Pietri: In the 1908 Olympic games in London, the marathon began in the middle of a hot afternoon. As Pietri picked up his pace, fatigue and dehydration hit him with only 2 kilometers go. When he entered the stadium, he was disoriented and headed in the wrong direction. Umpires pointed out his mistake and helped him up when he fell a handful of times. He managed to finish first, but was later disqualified for the assistance he received. Still, Queen Alexandra was so impressed with his efforts she gave him a gilded silver cup. He became an international celebrity.
Lesson learned: Never look at failure as the end of the road. It could be that your efforts will impress others more than the outcome.
4. Voula Papachristou: The Greek triple jumper was kicked off her team for the 2012 games in London after comments she made on Twitter were deemed racist. She claimed her tweet was a joke. But as USA Today noted, “This would have been the first Olympic Games for Papachristou. Instead she’ll be remembered for making history the wrong way.”
Lesson learned: Don’t destroy your professional reputation with careless and thoughtless online behavior.
5. Greg Louganis: At the 1988 Seoul games, Louganis banged his head on the diving board while attempting a two-and-one-half pike and suffered a concussion. While he went on to win two gold medals, Louganis faced a bigger challenge when he revealed that he was HIV positive. Most of his corporate sponsors dropped him. Louganis has gone on to have success outside of swimming and was one of the first inductees to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Lesson learned: Even with great success will come great challenges. But as long as you remain resilient, you will thrive in your career.