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Rio Olympics 2016 - The unexpected

August 21, 2016

#RIO2016 or #RioOlympics2016 are the two harshtags that have been trending constantly for the past few weeks since the RIO Olympics kicked off in the first week of August.

This year’s Olympics have come with quite a number of entertaining moments, surprises and shocks.  As expected, many tears have been shed by many people, for winning and for losing, for physical pain and for heartache. Whatever the case, I must say this has been an interesting Olympics.

I guess the first shocker came in from the tennis courts, as clearly outlined by one leading sports blog known as Larry Brown Sports:

“Novak Djokovic entered the 2016 Olympic Games as a favorite to win gold in men’s singles. Instead, he exited shockingly early and with tears streaming down his cheek after an opening-round loss to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. Following the match, Djokovic, the world number one, admitted it was one of the most difficult defeats of his career”

Well, you might be thinking that it was a bad day for the man; well, the ladies too had a rough time as further described in the same blog here below:

Coming into the 2016 Olympic Games, Serena and Venus Williams had never lost in doubles competition at the Olympics. The sibling duo had won three consecutive gold medals and appeared poised to add a fourth.

History had a different idea.

In a truly shocking upset, the Williams sisters fell in straight sets (6-3, 6-4) to the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova.

“We played terrible,” Serena told ABC News, “and it showed in the results. … I wasn’t playing the way I needed to play. I wasn’t crossing the way I need to cross.”

These are just two of the many examples of shocking moments in the history of the Olympics. For those who followed the different activities, you will agree with me that there were upsets all over the stadiums; in athletics, in ball games, in high-jump, in water sports, etc. You think of any sport that was represented during this year’s Olympics and I can guarantee you there was either a shock or a surprise. Oh and I forgot there were also some awkward moments. For instance, there was this awkward moment when Kenyans were cheering for whom they thought was Kenyan at the Olympics, only to be told that he was competing for Bahraini! Indeed like someone close to me said about this when he found out he was cheering the wrong team, “money is good”. As for me, now that I think back to this, suddenly the song “these girls ain’t loyal” pops into my mind; only that in this case I wouldn’t say girls……Anyway I digress.

For me though, the most surprising moments were in swimming. For instance, we had 20-year-old Simone Manuel become the first black female swimmer to win an Olympic medal for America when she tied for first place in the 100m freestyle. Sadly though, from all reporting channels, the emphasis was not on the win but on the fact that she is BLACK! Really? I guess Black is that more important than Gold don’t you think? Bad joke…. Please ignore.

Then there was the ultimate shocker when Joseph Schooling, a 21 year old Singaporean schooled Michael Phelps on how to do the 100m butterfly right. The beauty of this win is not that Joseph beat Michael Phelps, but it is the fact that in 2008, while he was still a young boy, he had an opportunity to meet Phelps and even took a photo with him. He idolized Phelps and was only too happy to sit under his wing and learn from him what makes a good swimmer. True to his dream, 8 years later he has achieved his dream and beaten his all time role model.

Phelps with Schooling. First photo is in 2008 and the 2nd photo is in the recently concluded 2016 olympics.

Of course as you all know, reporters would never let such a juicy story end there and so they have been following young Joseph everywhere he goes now that he has become and overnight celebrity. One particular interview he had with a local (Singapaorean) TV station got my attention because of the things he said. He was asked what his secret for being a champion in the 100m-butterfly competition was. His response was quite simple; “it is not one specific thing that works but it is a combination of many little things put together over a period of time that will help you achieve the desired results”. He then went on to describe what those “little things” were.

It is from this description given by Joseph that I would like to derive my message for today.  We have been talking about gifts for this whole month and in continuing with this theme I would like to highlight some things you should do in order to sharpen your gifts/skills.

As Joseph Schooling said, when you recognize you have a gift, the first thing you need to do is identify someone who has succeeded in articulating that gift and understudy them.  In his case, he chose Michael Phelps as his role model and learnt everything he could about him; how he trains, his diet, his techniques and tactics, etc. He made himself a Michael Phelps clone and in the end he beat him and has now become his own man.

Now that we already went through the process of identifying your gift, you need to identify your role model and learn everything there is to learn about how he/she uses his/her gift, how he/she applies it to make his/her dreams come true. Without a role model you will take longer than you would otherwise do to achieve your goals.

Secondly, Joseph also said that having a role model is not enough; pushing yourself to become better than your role model is what will take you to the top. For instance, if Michael Phelps spends four hours in the pool per day, then maybe Joseph spends an extra hour in the pool working as hard as he did the first four hours; if Phelps spends two hours in the gym, then Joseph probably does more. Why is this the case? My guess is that he realized that for him to become better than his role model, he had to put in extra time because as it is, Michael Phelps had already made a name for himself, he was already a seasoned swimmer whereas he Joseph was just coming up. He needed to put in more in order to surpass Michael.

Similarly, do you want to excel and use your gift effectively? Then you need to put in extra time to make this happen. Remember, your role model is already doing it, you are just beginning, you need to put in extra for you to get where they are and pass them. You have a lot of catching up to do and you can’t catch up by doing less.

In one of the interviews, his trainer was asked to describe Joseph and what he said was amazing; that ever since Joseph was a small boy, he never missed practice, was always on time come rain or sunshine, and in addition, he always put in more work than all the other students. It was not a wonder then that he is the one who threw Michael off the top position. In other words, Joseph has been consistent in sharpening his skills and polishing his gifts even when he didn’t feel like he needed to. It has taken him 8 years to put his gift to test but because he has been constantly polishing it without fail, it was not very difficult for him to overthrow Michael Phelps from his position.

Are you consistently polishing your gift or do you do it only when you feel like? The thing about consistency is that it requires serious discipline; this is what will make you do what you have to do even when you do not feel like doing it, or even when the circumstances are not right for you to do it.

In a nutshell, my take out from this young man is that for you to make your gifts work for you, you need to get a role model who motivates you, one you can emulate. Secondly, you need to go the extra mile in everything that you do. Speaking of the extra mile, I love a quote I once read by Roger Staubach that says, “there are no traffic jams along the extra mile”. In other words, very few people what to push themselves harder than necessary but it is those who do that enjoy the benefits of so doing. Lastly, among other things, consistency is key in making your gift work for you. You can’t be using your gift once every year and expect to stand out from the crowd. Well, you could stand out but only for the wrong reasons such as making a fool of yourself.

So as the curtain comes down on the #RioOlymbics2016 let us not forget the many lessons learnt from there. The most profound lesson for me was that it takes more than your gift to stand out from the crowd. Ask Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic and they’ll tell you that.

PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 21st August, 2016 under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".



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