18 lessons I learned from watching the 2016 Rio Olympics

I wanted to write a sequel for the article regarding the lessons I learned following the 2012 Olympics because this global event is an incredible source of extraordinary stories, unknown heroes and life lessons we can all learn from.

I wrote this article just as I would have liked to read it… however, even though I did extensive research, I wasn’t able – unfortunately – to find an article written to my likings… I wrote it.

In this article you won’t find references to the legendary Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky or other titans who won multiple gold medals…

… no, this article is mostly about those who have overcome their status, who have faced extremely difficult challenges and although some of them are not medalists they all have a story and a valuable life lesson to share.

  • Excellence is ageless!
  • 24 year old South African Olympian Wayne van Niekerk managed to crush the 400m sprint World Record that was previously held by Michael Johnson for 19 years. He managed this feat even though he ran on the 8th lane – the one people say is the most difficult to run on if you want to achieve a competitive time.

    However, his achievement would not have been possible without his excellent coach, 74 year old Ans Botha! Yes, you read well, this great-grandmother is the one who coached and prepared him for this super performance.

    Initially Wayne ran only the 200m sprint and he was injured most of the time because he wouldn’t optimally measure the sprint necessary for that distance. Ans Botha made him run 400m sprints and the results started to show very quickly. This great-grandmother coach also had other students who were Olympians in other sports. As she herself says, even though she’ll be celebrating her 75th birthday this fall, she has no intention of slowing down…

    In which area do you feel too old/young to start or matter?

  • Work until your idols become your rivals!
  • The one who bested the already legendary Michael Phelps, in the 100m butterfly final from Rio, isn’t just a competitor but also a fan. Joseph Schooling first met Phelps in 2008 when he was just 13 years old. The photo of their meeting has already created an online buzz.

    Joseph said that meeting his idol made him wish to become a better swimmer and that he considered Michael to be his most important role model for his entire career up to that point.

    In Rio, the now 21 year old won the first gold medal for Singapore by beating his idol. Let it be known that Joseph is just the third swimmer to defeat Phelps in an Olympic competition… and this makes his accomplishment even more impressing.

    Which one of your idols would you wish to become your rival?

  • The more pressure you put on yourself the more likely you are to fail!
  • In the article regarding the 2012 London Olympics I was mentioning with deep regret the failure of the Romanian epee team because, even though it entered the competition as a favorite, it cracked under pressure and was eliminated right in the quarter finals.

    This time however, the pressure was much lower, they weren’t considered favorites anymore and they benefitted from the fact that the US team cracked under pressure.

    What’s also significant to mention is that, before leaving for London, the epee team was frequently told to come back with the gold medals… yet before departing for Rio (considering the terrorist threats, the Zika virus etc.) the team was often told… just come back… well.

    Ana Maria Popescu’s last touché became something to tell your grandkids about and it was a part of the last offensive move that helped Romania gain the gold. The picture is extremely suggestive and it shows the level of art our champion is capable of.

    In which field do you put too much pressure on yourself and you don’t reach your full potential?

  • If you don’t play by the rules, you get expelled!
  • Even though in other contexts your views on politics or any topic are different than those of your sporting adversary, when you enter a competition, especially the Olympics, it’s all about sports!

    The International Olympic Committee announced that Judoka Islam El Shehaby, who refused to shake hands with his Israeli adversary, had been excluded from the Olympic Games.

    The Egyptian sportsman admitted that he didn’t want to shake hands with an Israeli and that, according to the rules of the Judo competition he’s not obliged to do so. However, the IOC contradicted him by pointing out that his behavior breached the rules of fair-play as well as disrespected the spirit of the Olympic Games.

    From what field do you leave yourself out because you’re not willing to follow the rules?

  • Sometimes, before winning a competition against others, you must first win a competition against yourself.
  • The thought of being the first one in a competition is extremely tempting – wanting to best others to prove how good you truly are. Sometimes however, to have the opportunity to enter such a competition, you must first win an internal battle. It could be a disease, a limiting belief or even a way of life that doesn’t promote performance.

    Santiago Lange from Argentina, catamaran winner had to lead a fight against lung cancer. After being diagnosed with this condition the previous year he used the motivation he accumulated from his 5 Olympic performances and 2 bronze medals to make an almost miraculous recovery.

    He himself was saying “I was extremely positive during these 6 months. It was extremely difficult but I’ve learned a lot from this experience!”

    What’s an internal struggle you haven’t yet won? How can you win it?

  • You can be happy for participating even though you didn’t win!
  • David Katoatau was only on the 14th place in weightlifting. However, he started an Olympic buzz when he ended his performance with a dance that was full of energy and joy.

    Those present encouraged him and cheered him on. Later however he stated that the main reason for his behavior was to raise awareness over the fact that his home country, the island of Kiribati, is sinking into the ocean more and more each year because of global warming.

    It was his way of warning people that more than 100,000 souls could lose the smiles on their faces and their pleasure to dance in the coming years if nothing is done.

    What’s an area of your life that frustrates you because you haven’t achieved the desired results? Still, what could you celebrate about this field here and now?

  • You can find excuses or you can find solutions. It’s your choice!
  • Romanian wrestler Ionut Panait took an unpaid vacation to be able to participate in the Olympics because he works on a construction site in Germany, placing roof tiles on houses. His dream of participating in the Olympic Games led him to make impressive sacrifices.

    He took a week off from work, left for a competition in Mongolia where he qualified for the Olympics and now he has fulfilled his greatest dream: to attend the Olympic Games.

    Raised in an orphanage, Ionut says that ever since he was a young boy he was used to working hard so he doesn’t believe his story to be special.

    What story do you tell yourself to justify your procrastination and the way in which you avoid to follow your passions?

  • It takes years to build a reputation and minutes to lose it!
  • At the start of the Olympic Games, Ryan Lochte was considered one of the stars of the US team. He had won 12 Olympic medals, second only to the legendary Michael Phelps. However, one night after a party, while still under the influence of alcohol, he and 3 other colleagues from the swimming team vandalised a gas station.

    The security guards intervened, immobilized and ID’d them. Unfortunately, the story Ryan told the press was as further from the truth as it could be. He claimed he was robbed at gunpoint.

    The entire charade was revealed when the Brazilian police published the video recordings caught by the surveillance cameras in the gas station this proving Ryan and his colleagues lied. At this point in time, Ryan is considered to be a national disappointment in the US, especially for the disservice he brought upon the image of the American Olympic team. Moreover, Ryan lost countless publicity contracts worth millions of dollars, all as a result of his actions.

    What’s that one word you would like to be associated with by everybody who knows you?

  • Courage can take different forms. Some completely unexpected…
  • Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa managed a remarkable result by placing second in the marathon event. When he crossed the finish line, Feyisa crossed his hands over his head as if he was wearing handcuffs.

    He repeated this gesture at the awarding ceremony as a sign of protest against the dictatorial regime in his home country. Immediately afterwards, he expressed his concerns regarding the fact that he could be killed when he returned home. Regardless of the consequences however, he wanted to raise global awareness regarding the abuses of the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia.

    What injustice would you like to see removed from your community? What are you willing to do for that to happen?

  • A single person is enough to awaken an entire country!
  • Monica Puig managed one of the greatest surprises during these Olympic Games when he won the tennis final for women’s singles. Ranked only as the 34th in the world before the Olympics, she managed to elevate her tennis to a world class level and beat 3 former Grand Slam winners – Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and, in the final, she managed to beat number 2 WTA Angelique Kerber.

    By playing spectacular tennis, having passionate fans in the stands as well as all of the hearts in Puerto Rico beating alongside hers, Monica managed to win the first gold medal in her country’s history. And her performance is even more impressive because she is the first woman in her country to win a medal in the Olympics.

    Monica declared, after winning the final, that she “played with all the heart and soul she was capable of. I had an enormous amount of self confidence and I upped my game to my highest level thus far.” The celebratory parties are still going on right now in Puerto Rico…

    What needs to happen for you to feel motivated to change something significant in your life?

  • If your “WHY” is strong enough you’ll find the “HOW”.
  • One of the most special heroes of the Rio Olympics is Julius Yego, a Kenyan national who won a silver medal in the javelin throw. I must admit that I was also a bit surprised when I heard that an athlete from a country with little to no tradition regarding this sporting event managed such an unexpected result.

    During an interview Julius gave CNN he recalled how amazed other reporters were with his performances: “They wanted to ask my coach how I prepared before competitions. But I didn’t have a coach. Then they asked me who I trained with? And I said: YouTube.”

    What do you want to do, be or have… but you still don’t know how yet? How can you increase the power of your WHY so that you can find out the HOW much quicker?

  • Even if you fail never stop being a HUMAN BEING!
  • During the qualifying rounds for the 5000m heat one runner experienced her worst nightmare: she tripped and fell. Unfortunately another runner experienced the second worst nightmare: she tripped on another competitor and fell.

    For Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin the things they least wanted to happen unfortunately happened. But what came next was regarded as the most authentic fair play moment from the entire Rio Olympics event.

    Even though both runners were seriously injured and qualifying for the final was out of the realm of possibilities for them, they supported and encouraged each other to go on and still finish the race.

    Tears of frustration mixed with tears of joy overwhelmed the two after they hugged at the finish line. Watch the video below to experience for yourself the emotion behind this moment of humanity shown by these two runners.

    When was the last time you were generous to a stranger without an ulterior motive?

  • Don’t give up on your dream no matter the temporary circumstances you might find yourself in!
  • For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games an immigrant team was formed containing athletes from Syria and other countries affected by war. Every one of these athletes have life stories that go beyond the incredible. Out of all of these stories, one particularly stands out – the story of a swimmer from Syria, Yusra Mardini, who now lives in Germany.

    On her way to her adoptive country Yusra had to cross the sea between Turkey and Greece. Suddenly the inflatable boat she was in started to take on water. Only 4 other people on the boat knew how to swim. Yusra, alongside these 4 people, swam and pushed the boat for over 3 hours until they reached the shore.

    Even though she didn’t win any Olympic competition she won the hearts of millions of people through the courage she exhibited.

    What is one dream you gave up on at a certain point in time because you lost hope of ever achieving it? To the extent that this dream is still relevant, are you willing to give yourself another shot?

  • If you stay dedicated to your purpose the Universe will give you a second chance!
  • In 2014 the FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil and everyone was anticipating that the hosting team would once again be crowned the winner of this championship. What happened in reality however couldn’t be further from the predictions.

    Neymar was seriously injured in his back during the match against Colombia and wasn’t able to play for his team for the rest of the championship. Brazil made it to the semifinals and suffered an historical humiliation in front of Germany who categorically won 7-to-1.

    The wound inside the hearts of millions of Brazilians who were passionate about soccer wasn’t soothed until the final that Brazil played against Germany on the same legendary stadium – Maracana.

    It’s true that Germany brought their Olympic soccer team and not the one that would end up winning the World Cup. For Neymar, however, and Brazil in its entirety this was an extremely necessary bandaid for their wound.

    Although the match was not easy at all and Germany played really well they entered overtime and then reached the stage of penalty kicks. The score was tied up until the last two penalty kicks. The German player missed the shot and this gave Neymar the chance to give Brazil its first Olympic gold medal in soccer. The video below shows the penalty kicks and the joy of the Brazilians after Neymar’s goal.

    What is one failure that has discouraged you to try for a second time? Will you allow yourself to try just once more?

  • When life knocks you down get up and reinvent yourself!
  • Simply put, Zahra Nemati competes for Iran in the archery event. Her story however began a long time ago…

    Zahra is an ex-athlete with a black belt in taekwondo (karate). In 2003 however, because of an automobile accident, she was paralyzed. After 3 years of recovery she wanted to start practicing archery.

    After just 6 months of practice she placed 3rd in the national championships where she competed against other athletes who had no disabilities. In 2012 she won two gold medals in the Paralympics. In 2016 she competed both in the summer Olympics as well as the Paralympics. In the latter competition she managed to win both a gold and a silver medal.

    What is the apparently negative event that hardened you the most and helped you become the person you are today?

  • Sporting games bring people together a lot easier than politics!
  • North and South Korea have been at war with each other ever since the 1950’s. For over half a century they have been holding each other in check while threatening the stability of the entire South Asia.

    Under these circumstances it was both shocking and inspirational to see two gymnasts from these two countries talking to each other and then stopping to take a selfie. This shows that sports can create bridges that politics fails to build.

    What is one person you would like to have a better relationship with but still haven’t managed it? What other contexts can you explore to build a relationship based on more than just one context?

  • When you (don’t) have a long term strategy the results are predictable!
  • In 1996, in Atlanta, Romania placed 14th in the medals ranking with a total of 20 medals, 4 of which were gold medals. The United Kingdom placed 36th with a total of 15 medals, only one of which was a gold medal.

    Twenty years later, Romania placed 47th with only 5 medals while the British athletes came in at number 2 in the medals ranking with a total of 67 medals.

    After the disaster in Atlanta, prime-minister John Major decided to allocate funds from the national lottery towards performance sports. From 6 million euros a year allocated for sports before the Atlanta Olympics, the budget reached 55 million for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 265 million in 2012. Between 2013 and 2017, 351 million euros were spent. And every euro came for public funds.

    BBC did the math for the Rio Olympics and concluded that each medal won by the British team was worth 5 million euros.

    What are the reference points for the next 3-5-10 years that guide what you’re doing today?

  • Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.

Before the Rio Olympics the rivalry between Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos was well known. 4 years before, during the London Olympics, Chad actually managed to defeat Michael during the 200m butterfly heat. Now, Phelps returned from his retirement mainly to earn his title back.

However, there was an essential difference between the two: Phelps wanted to win, le Clos wanted to beat Michael. The best athlete out of the two was to one who focused on winning not on his rival.

What rivalry exhausts your resources and deters you from being the best version of yourself?


If you’ve made it this far with the article, thank you!

I trust you had a pleasant read and gathered a consistent amount of life lessons.

To the extent that you liked this article please share it with your friends – either by sending them the link, posting it on Facebook or Twitter or even on a bumper sticker on the back of your car :)

And if this article awoke something inside you I would like you to share this with me.

May you have prodcutive days and bring out the giant that lives inside of you!


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