Olympics

The winter Olympics have started. I like the Olympics. There is something special about an event that only occurs every 4 years where the participants train their entire lives for perhaps one defining moment. pyeongchang-2018The Olympic event happens in various locations around the world. It is enjoyable to learn about the diverse cultures and see the beautiful sights the world has to offer.

I like the timed and racing events better than the judged event. The human element of judging adds some uncertainty that lowers my interest level. I do enjoy the entertainment value of events like ski jumping and snowboarding. My favorite Olympic event by far is downhill skiing. I like the idea of skiing on the edge to get down the hill as fast as possible. Push the edge too far and the skier will crash. The speed of this race is breathtaking with skiers hitting 80-90 mph.

My initiation to downhill skiing occurred while watching the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.  I was 15 years old and it would be 3 more years before I would go on my first ski trip, so I was watching this event as a complete novice. These Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Franz-Klammer_250x300Austria, where downhill skiing is like the Super Bowl in the USA. The top Austrian hope for the downhill was Fanz Klammer. The pressure on Klammer to win the downhill for his native Austria was immense. Klammer was set for his final run and he was .5 seconds behind Swiss skier Bernard Russi’s blistering pace. Klammer took incredible risks on his final run. He looked like he was constantly on the edge of a major crash. It was almost like Klammer was putting his life on the line to win the gold medal for his country. Klammer beat Russi, won the gold medal and moved on to become a legend in the sports world.

Watching the video of Klammer’s gold medal ski run still inspires me today. I learned several important lessons from this event. First, I learned that winter sports are awesome. As a person born and raised in the mostly snowless southern USA, I had never attempted activities like snow skiing and watching Klammer’s run motivated me to begin a lifelong love for this sport. Second, and most impactful, Klammer’s 1976 gold medal in the Olympics taught me that there are times when we need to throw caution to the wind and go for it. While we can’t constantly pull out all the stops due to limited energy and common sense, there are opportunities to put all we have into a task. When we put everything on the line there is an enormous risk of failure, but the reward is worth the risk.

An example of “putting it all on the line,” is a career defining career project. For me this was the development of a new, revolutionary for the time, desktop computer in the mid-1990s. The company’s success was on the line with this product and my team and I put our hearts and souls into its development. While we all worked very long hours during this time I distinctly remember spending all night in a factory while my team tried to sort out a manufacturing issue. The team was able to overcome the various obstacles and launch the product. This product ended up being one of the most successful in the company’s history. Clearly none of us could have kept up this relentless work schedule for long, but we recognized this project as a defining moment and a time to be “all in.”

How do we recognize these Franz Klammer or “all in” moments? Identifying the stakes is a critical first step. Ask yourself if the project or event is important. Not just important, but critical. These events can fall under the categories of personal, professional or spiritual. Some people take the safe route and are hesitant to risk going “all in” on anything. Always taking the safe path and never risking anything is failure tainted with the bad taste of regret. Achieving remarkable things calls for greater risk. Garth Brooks sings a song called “The Dance.” In this song the singer is racked with pain from a break-up, but in the end would not change a thing because he would have missed “The Dance,” or the experience. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, we grow from failures. It is important to have the courage to risk failure. Equally important is to learn how to deal and grow with failure.

I hope you are able to watch some of the Olympics and learn from the folks “putting it all on the line.”

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