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Leigh Steinberg

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What it Takes to Win at the Olympics

Posted: 08/06/2012 5:03 pm

We are now in week two of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. These are the first Games which are using multiple platforms to deliver content -- you can enjoy the Olympics on four different television networks and via live internet stream which can be delivered to I-Pads, computers, and mobile phones. NBC is predicting that they will actually make a profit, which is unusual given the prohibitively expensive rights fees and massive production. Given the fact that they are squeezing miniscule amounts of action amidst a tsunami wave of advertising, perhaps it is not so surprising. Much of the focus is on American medals -- we are a nation that exults in victory. These Games have crowned new heroes and labeled less successful performers as disappointments.

Clearly there is a group of fresh-faced American champions. Gabby Douglas, "The Flying Squirrel," who delivered an electrifying performance while winning a Gold Medal in the individual Gymnastics competition Thursday night is already on the way to becoming "America's Sweetheart". Her smiling face and diminutive stature promise to be reflected in major endorsements in the months to come. Watch how the post-Olympic celebrity making machine -- appearances on late night and early morning talk shows as well as print prominence -- elevate her stature. She was not expected to be the winner. Her teammates who won the team gold medal are attractive figures. Swimmer Missy Franklin has won multiple medals and has a great smile and enthusiasm that is heartwarming, and she was joined by gold medalists Rebecca Soni and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky. Michael Phelps has been a fixture forever but his unprecedented goal total has taken him to iconic status. Tyler Clary and Nathan Adrian won unexpected swimming medals. Track and field, volleyball and basketball will add new stars. The television coverage exalts the winners and fixates on the losers.

Gymnastics star Jordyn Wieber was predicted to be the winner in the all-around and didn't make the final cut. There was seemingly endless coverage of her sadness. Amy Riesman failed at the last minute to medal in the all-around. Ryan Lochte was predicted to be the new Michael Phelps, and much was made of his failures. The reigning gold medal-winning men's volleyball team was dethroned by Brazil. Much was made on the broadcast of volleyball Champions Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh actually losing a game in a match they won. So much of our judgment as to success or failure depends on the build-up and expectations coming into the Games. Unsung athletes who medal are lionized, favorites who underperform are judged harshly.

Every single athlete that makes the Olympics is a winner in most respects. These elite athletes have survived harrowing competition in their nations to be able to qualify in the first place. They are the most talented athletes in the world. There are only three medals awarded among worldwide competitors. How can Jordyn Wieber who shared in the team gold medal be judged as a failure. Or Ryan Lochte who will multiple medals. Finishing in the top three in the world among thousands and thousands of aspirants can't be defined as losing. Is the fourth listed multi-billionaire in Forbes Magazine's "World's Richest" a failure because he only that 25 billion dollars? At some level, long-lost in the frenzy to be number one, these Games are supposed to be about the joy of competing and the camaraderie that develops between athletes of different countries. Better an international competition based on athletics rather than a third World War. All the participants are winners. Having clarified that, let's look at what the medalists possess that other athletes don't

After years of practice and preparation what is the key element that leads to victory? It is the ability at the most critical moment in a competition to elevate performance. It is a "quiet mind" able to tune out all external pressure and stimuli and focus on the task at hand. It is the ability to forget and disregard prior mistakes and disappointment and excell in the present moment. It is Troy Aikman becoming oblivious to the desperation of the Cowboy's desperate position to pull out a totally unlikely final drive and victory in the Super Bowl. It is Albert Pujols ignoring the scoreboard and the time frame and locking into a zone while at the plate in last year's World Series. It is what Michael Jordan was able to do leading the Bulls to multiple NBA Championship.

At the penultimate moment when everything was on the line, Gabby Douglas receded into her own mind. The audience of a billion television viewers didn't exist, nor did the screaming spectators, nor did the presence of her family in the stands, nor did the implications of success or failure -- her mind went quiet. And with complete concentration and single-mindedness she exultantly flew through the air like magic -- and made history.

 
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