Olympians Teach Us Inner Strength

“My Cornerstone” is a blog series introduced by Cornerstone International Group Chairman Simon Wan, relating the lessons of business and life.  Read the first article here

The recent Rio Olympic Games brings to mind one of my favorite aphorisms, made by an American track and field athlete who found inner strength to come back and win medals even after suffering serious injuries. This is what motivates sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross:

“Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle!”

I think that Sanya exemplifies perfectly the outlook on life that inspired the Baron de Coubertin to lead the movement to found the modern Olympic Games. He said, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

In other words, ‘Be The Best You Can Be’.

With the perennial doping scandals, and this year’s spectacle of swimmer Ryan Lochte cooking up a story about being robbed at gun point, it’s easy to fall into a cynical frame of mind about the Games. But let’s also remember other, more inspiring events. Here are two I will never forget:

  1. The players on the Chinese women’s volleyball team were young and played inconsistently. In fact, they lost badly against the team from the Netherlands in their opening match.

After this loss the Associated Press reported that their coach, 1984 gold medalist Lang Ping, “challenged her players: to learn, to support one another through the ups and downs, to grow from each defeat and triumph on the pressure-packed Olympic stage” — which they did, beating the two-time Olympic champion Brazilian team on their home turf and then overcoming the surging Serbian team to win gold.

The newspaper article noted that the inspired Chinese team seemed to find inner strength and play better when the challenges grew bigger.

  1. In the women’s 5000m race on August 16, American Abbey D’Agnostino accidentally ran into New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. Both fell, ending their medal hopes. Amazingly, with the years of training and personal sacrifice dashed in an instant, D’Agnostino did not collapse in despair. Instead she helped Hamblin to get up, urging the New Zealander to finish the race.

olympians-help-each-otherWhen D’Agnostino realized that she was badly hurt, she urged Hamblin to go on without her. But Hamblin refused, helping the injured American carry on, until D’Agnostino convinced Hamblin to run ahead. Both finished out of medal contention, but to the cheers of the crowd and the admiration of the world.

As Nikki Hamblin said of D’Agnostino, “I’m so grateful to Abbey for doing that for me. I mean, that girl is the Olympic spirit right there. I’m so impressed and inspired she did that. I’ve never met her before. And isn’t that just so amazing?”

These moments show that being a true Olympian winner calls for a strong Inner Self. And we can see this quality extends beyond the Games.  For leaders in all walks of life, a real Cornerstone of leadership is the value of fair play that develops from a strong Inner Self.

The dimensions of this inner strength self include:

  • Ceaseless efforts to expand intellectual horizons
  • A commitment to the fundamental virtues of Truthfulness and Honesty
  • Concern for the well-being – physical, emotional and spiritual — of ourselves, those near to us, and, like D’Agnostino and Hamblin, those who are beyond our inner circle.

Besides the many magnificent stories that came out of Rio,  I have also drawn inspiration from two films that are about the Olympic Games and the athletes who compete in them.  If you have not already seen them, I recommend these movies highly:

Chariots of Fire (1981) — is a stirring story is about the 1924 Olympics and the athletic careers of Jewish Cambridge student Harold Abrahams and Christian missionary-to-be Eric Liddell. There is a great line in the film when Liddell’s sister says her brother is distracted from his spiritual mission. Liddell, a Scotsman, responds: “Aye, Jenny, I know. But He also made me fast. When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” The film won four Oscars, including best picture.

RACE (2016) —is a 2016 biographical film about African American athlete Jesse Owens, who won a record-breaking four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Owens being black, his racial identity was hugely upsetting to the Nazis.  The film highlights Owens’s life and career, both in the US and in the Berlin Olympics.

The Olympic Games, whether live or on screen, present us all with examples that can help us be better people both in business and in life.  At Cornerstone International Group, we aspire to these high standards as indications of our professionalism and integrity.

If you have a ”My Cornerstone” example we would be happy to share it.  Please contact our editor at editor@cornerstone-group.com.


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