What Did the London Games Teach You About Life?

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20:  Street artist Jame...

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 20: Street artist James Cochran, Aka Jimmy C puts the finishing touches to a piece of work depicting the face of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on July 20, 2012 in London, England. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic games will take place in seven days on July 27, 2012. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I don’t usually watch much sports, but when I do, I make it the Olympics. There’s something so compelling about watching people come from all over the world to compete in a variety of sports, and to see the success, heart break, and story around each and every athlete.

Here are just some of the lessons I took away from the Olympic Games:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

American sprinter Manteo Mitchell discovered this when he was competing in the 4×400 meter preliminaries, and broke his left fibula. He was still able to keep going, so for him, there was really no choice in the matter: He finished the lap, and stayed on the sidelines to watch the Americans finish and qualify for the final.

The more successful you are, the more some people will hate you for it.

Ye Shiwen, a 16 year old swimmer from China, broke the world record in the women’s 400m individual medley. It wasn’t long before there were accusations hurled at her, accusing her of having taken drugs in order to achieve such results.

Part of the problem is that some 0ther swimmers have tested positive in the past, but nonetheless, one can also have the good grace to celebrate a hard-won victory, without immediately pointing accusatory fingers of blame.

Face adversity head-on.

Hamadou Djibo Issaka had only started learning how to row three months prior. He didn’t have the best form or shape for the challenge, so when he competed in the 2000m single sculls heat, he finished more than a minute behind his nearest competitor, and nearly two minutes behind the winner. In spite of this, he didn’t give up, and though he didn’t take home a medal, he still captured the hearts of the crowd with his unrelenting spirit.

Some people are better than you’ll ever be.

Sometimes, we just have to accept that no matter what we do, there’ll probably be someone else out there who’s better at it than we are. At the top stand legends like Michael Phelps, with a record of 22 Olympic medals, and Usain Bolt, a self-proclaimed living legend, and the greatest athlete of all time. They stand at the top of their fields, and their records will probably be unmatched for some time to come.

In every field, there is someone at the top, and someone better at it than you. Instead of despairing, we need to recognize success in our own fields and domains of influence, and savour each achievement on its own merits.

What are your thoughts?

Though I deeply admire the spirit of the Olympic athletes (if not so much the commercialism surrounding the games, themselves), the games also remind me of just how unequal and unfair our world can be. Some people are born gifted; others are born with imperfections or defects. Some people are born intelligent, others, not so much. Some are born into good families, and some aren’t. Some are born in the rich developed world. Many others are not, and don’t have the same chance to develop their talents. Heck, even in the games, some try so hard, and just get unlucky or injured at the worst possible moment.

Is it really right or fair to judge people based on their physical and mental accomplishments, or lack thereof? Nobody can control the body and mind they were born with. It’s unfair to blame a person with depression for being depressed, or a person with a physical or mental defect for having that defect, and maybe it’s also unfair to praise someone for being naturally gifted. After all, they also didn’t get to control that, but it’s a good thing that the dice came up 7s for them!

However, it’s possible to take this chain of thought too far and argue that nobody is ever responsible for anything, and I don’t want to go that far. I don’t doubt that every Olympic athlete has worked very hard to get to where they are, and we can learn much from them.

One element that I really admire about the games is that it also shows how some people are able to surpass these limitations and shine as an example for the rest of us. Clara Hughes, a Canadian cyclist and skater, has not only turned her own life around and gone on to win several medals, but she’s also gone on to help others and give back at the same time.

I look forward to the day when the world is a little bit more equal, and nobody has to suffer a penalty because of where they were born, the family that they were born into, or even because of the genes that they were born with. It should never be about bringing others down; instead, it should be about raising everyone up, so that we can all have the same opportunities of those whom we most admire.

Interesting reading:

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  1. says

    I enjoy watching the Olympics but always find myself a bit cynical – for some countries, athletes strive to bring home gold not because they love the sport, but because they HAVE to, in order to keep themselves and their families supported and fed. The politics of it can be unpleasant.

    • says

      Unfortunately there are different pressures on each side that makes things less pure than they could be. I agree that the political aspects can get to be too much sometimes.

  2. says

    I learned boxing and wrestling are corrupt all across the world, gymnastics has to contort itself to prevent top gymnasts from competing (leaving out the 4th best from the all around? Please!), and the top countries get most of the medals anyway!

    Seriously, though, I love the Olympics and I found every excuse to watch more event s- even the events where I couldn’t obnoxiously cheer on the US. “I don’t usually watch much sports, but when I do, I make it the Olympics.” Stay thirsty, my friend.

    • says

      It’s always great to watch! I think the corruption might get worse in the future as you see families specifically breeding just for the Olympics, and stuff like that…

  3. says

    I liked the story of Guor Marial who ran the marathon as an independent. He refused to run under the flag of Southern Sudan because of the violence visited upon his family. The village he came from has no electricity. His kin had to walk 30 miles (farther than the marathon!) to get to a village with a TV.
    We lose sight of real poverty living in the rich economies.

    • says

      Can’t believe I missed this story. That’s an inspiring story, and glad to see that he stood up for his beliefs. Agreed that we can get too caught up in our first world problems; I wonder why it isn’t easier for athletes to compete on an independent basis? Are we only defined by the government that happens to be in control of the land where we live?

  4. says

    It is hard to forget that some people are born with a natural advantage. Michael Phelps, for example, is double jointed in a way that gives him a natural advantage in the pool over other swimmers. That said, natural advantage only goes so far and doesn’t guarantee anything, as he showed this year. I hold ultimate respect for Olympic athletes – for most, going to the Olympics becomes a life-consuming goal and that kind of dedication is something I’m not sure I could ever manage.

    • says

      I definitely admire that level of dedication — something we can all learn from. However, if one can be born with a physical advantage, doesn’t that apply to one’s mind as well? I wouldn’t be surprised if scientists one day discover a way to re-engineer our minds to have the same willpower as some of these great athletes. The Olympics might get quite strange a few decades down the road. 😉

  5. says

    I’m always blown away by the athletes in their 30-40s who are still in unbelievable shape and can keep up with all the 16-18 year olds! It’s great motivation to know that it is still possible to be physically fit even after our 20’s have come and gone! :)

  6. Betty says

    A lot of athletes has been able to win the admiration of many without having to win a medal. Athletes provide inspiration and it is not only through winning that they are able to give them but through their hard effort, persistence, perseverance and determination that provides a great impact to our hearts and minds. Thank you for this amazing post.

  7. says

    I loved the Olympic games. I quit my job just in time to see a ton of sports. hahaha.
    My favorite moment was when Kelly Pearson won the 100m women hurdle. She didn’t know if she won or not and really broke down when she found out. Usan Bolt was so dominating. Great games overall.

  8. Be'en says

    I don’t mind the commerciallisation (spelling?) so much because it brings in the money to make the shows spectacular. However, I do dislike excessive show or nationalism and flag-waving. Olympics are perhaps one venue where togetherness could be emphasized.

    Also, disliked the excessive appeals for review of decisions made by referees and umpires – the wheel that squeeked the loudest usually took the medal. Case in point: a British diver screwed up his dive but his backup staff got in to action and claimed he was distracted by the flashlights of cameras! He got a second chance and won the silver I believe. Home-bias is very marked — come the Rio Olympics, and Britain’s medal tally will half, and the Brazilians will suddenly be the world-beaters.

    • says

      I noticed that about the contesting of decisions, too. I usually don’t mind commercialization, but I thought the stance against bagels in the windows and stuff like that was a bit too much.

      Also agreed about nationalism. It’s great to have pride for one’s country, but I don’t think we’re only defined by the government we live under. Maybe more athletes should be able to compete as independents or under their own chosen group. However, I think political pressure would probably get in the way of that happening, for most cases. Just look at Taiwan competing as “Chinese Taipei”.

  9. says

    I may be the only hater here, but I didn’t watch the games. My sisters, on the other hand, were obsessed with it. I can’t really explain why the Olympics doesn’t appeal to me since I am a huge sports fantastic. I did watch 35 seconds of the closing ceremonies.

    • says

      I don’t know either. For me it’s different because I usually have no interest in professional sports, but I’ll be happy to watch the Olympics. 😉

  10. says

    I think that it is tragic that Yi Shiwen was accused of cheating. I hope that the games have inspired young people all around the UK to get into sport and believe in themselves! Jess Ennis and Mo Farah are fantastic role models

    • says

      The games seem to have gone well overall, in spite of some hitches! I’ll be interested to hear some on-the-ground reports from a friend who went in person, when he gets back in a week or so!

  11. says

    I thought it was crazy how much money out of their own pockets the US athletes have to spend in the smaller sports like gymnastics, wrestling etc. I wonder what they do when they’re done with their sport and that’s all they know… How do they make money?

  12. says

    That I should stop watching so many stupid sporting events on TV and get a real life…. The Olympics have become commercialized professional sports…… it’s a damn shame there are so few amateurs left who play sports for fun instead of money. I’d like to see the pros banished from the Olympics again…… enough with pro basketball and tennis players……. all the big stars seem to be getting paid big bucks for endorsements.


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