by Susan B. McConnell
Watching the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing over the last two weeks has been thrilling. The excitement of competition, display of physical fitness, adventure of getting a bird's eye view of China, and the personal stories of victory and fortitude were a breath of fresh air as I watched the events these last two weeks on television. Viewing the games, I learned some valuable lessons from these accomplished athletes that can be applied to everyday life:
1. Cultural differences can be bridged through athletic competition. For China to host the Olympic Games and invite the world to attend is an accomplishment toward diplomacy and better communication.
2. Age is a matter of the mind. Dara Torres, the 41-year-old swimmer won three silver medals, as the oldest swimmer on the team. When asked if she would consider competition in future Olympic Games, she said that she agreed with her coach, "Never say never."
3. Attitude is everything. Twenty-four year old David Neville, dove across the finish line to win a bronze medal in the men's 400m final. When asked why he decided at the last second to dive across the line, he said, "It wasn't so much about the medal. It was about sacrifice." The lunge carried him across the finish line four-hundredths of a second ahead of the fourth place runner. Neville said that he could envision one day his grandchildren hearing about his medal win: ""I'm coming down the homestretch and I don't know where I am. But I know I have what it takes in my heart to finish well. And no matter what obstacles are ahead of you, are to the side of you, if you keep your eye on the prize, your eye on the goal, you'll get what you need." (NBCOlympics.com by Alan Abramson, 08/21/08). Yes, David, attitude is everything.
4. Practice does make perfect. Over the last four years, the Olympic athletes have spent countless hours each day preparing for these competitions. To earn the opportunity to compete, they had to be physically and mentally committed to excellence in their respective sports.
5. Some people do have a physical advantage. Michael Phelps, who won an unprecedented eight gold medals, has an arm span of 6' 7", a very long torso, size 14 foot, and shorter legs for his height, all advantages for a swimmer. Accept that in life some people have advantages and should use them to the best of their ability.
6. Parents matter. Think about the many Olympic competitors whose parents were themselves Olympians. They spent countless hours encouraging their child to practice, learn a new skill, eat healthy, strengthen their body, exhibit self-discipline and practice more so that excellence is attained. Helping kids find a hobby or talent in which they can excel and encouraging their best effort should be a parent's priority.
7. Learning to overcome adversity is important to success in life. Natalie du Toit, from South Africa, competed in the 10k open water swimming event this week with only one leg. She lost a leg in a motorcycle accident after she missed qualifying for the 2000 Sydney Games but vowed to continue swimming. Finishing fourth place at the World Championships in Spain this year, she qualified for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
8. Appreciate the relationships in life more than individual accomplishments. Just ask Taylor Phinney, an 18 year-old USA cyclist, whose father, Davis Phinney, also a former Olympian, is battling Parkinson's disease. Taylor's mom, also a former Olympian, works to keep the family focused on competition and dealing with the effects of Parkinson's. Taylor appreciates what his family means to him and said in a Los Angeles Times interview, "My dad is my inspiration. That I'm in this Olympics is because of my mom and dad."
9. Be willing to admit mistakes. Lolo Jones, the favorite to win the women's 100m hurdles, was ahead of the pack when she knocked over the ninth hurdle and realized her Olympic dream of winning a gold medal would not happen. After the race, she told reporters, "I felt the gold around me," Jones said, "but if you can't finish the race, you don't deserve to be the champion."
10. When bad things happen, look for something good to come from it. Matt Emmons, the American shooter lost his chance at a gold medal for the second consecutive Olympic Games. In 2004, he led the field in the final shot when he accidentally shot at the wrong target. However, after the match, he met a Czech Republic shooter named Katrina who encouraged him and later became his wife. Emmons, only needing an average shot to win gold this week in Beijing, fired his gun before the final shot, causing his hopes for a gold medal to be eliminated. Emmons said after the competition that he knows something good will come from this mistake just as it did in 2004 when he met Katrina.
Thousands of stories have been told and as many lessons can be learned from each one of these Olympic competitors. As Americans, we are proud of our Olympians and their dedication to excellence. Their inspiring stories can motivate us all to strive for excellence in work, family, and community. Take the lessons learned from these remarkable Olympic athletes and apply them to everyday life. We can all become champions.
Susan B. McConnell is the author of Raising Great Kids in a Tough World (Thomas Nelson 2005) and Parenting in Tough Times (Eagle Books, 2007)