OlympicsI’m not a huge sports guy.  I can hold my own when I find myself in the middle of a sports-related conversation, but unless we’re talking about the Nationals, it’s rare to find me watching sports on TV.

But for some reason I absolutely love watching the Olympics.  It’s something about having top athletes from so many countries come together that feels magical.  It could be the international story lines, or maybe the amazing athletic achievements that happen every day during the Olympics.

I’m not sure why, but I do know I love it.

Last week I was sitting in front of the TV, watching highlights from the cross-country ski race earlier that day, and I couldn’t help but notice the glaring lessons that even us runners, who aren’t at all represented during the Winter Olympics, could draw from this year’s games.

Here’s what I mean…

Dedication

Aside from the famous snowboarders, top ranked skiers, pro-hockey players, and lucky few who picked up Subway sponsorships, most winter Olympic athletes aren’t the highly paid athletes we follow in other sports.

Their sports, on the other hand, are often forgotten 3 out of every 4 years.  Your average person has no idea who’s top ranked before lead-up to the Olympics.  Very few are watching these sports throughout the year, and absolutely zero companies are paying 4 million dollars to have a commercial spot during one of their televised events.

The vast majority of the athletes featured in the games are doing it solely for the love of the sport.

No fame.

No money.

Hell, many even have to pay their own way!  The dedication exhibited by these athletes is incredible, and an average runner has a lot to learn from it.

Most of us aren’t going to win races, and even those of us that do probably won’t make a living from it.  Yet we’re out there every day for the love of the sport and to be the best we can be.  If Olympians can do it at world class levels, we can do it at our top level.

Inspiration

Even Olympic athletes need inspiration from fellow athletes and fans.

When Jeremy Abbott fell hard at the very beginning of his ice skating short program routine, you could see the disappointment and pain in his face.  After he got up and continued on, nailing the rest of his routine, he told reporters that he was ready to quit after going down.  Instead, when heard the cheering from the crowd, he knew he had to keep going.

And when Iouri Podladtchikov took gold in the men’s snowboarding halfpipe competition, one of the first things he did was to thank Shawn White for being his idle and inspiration.

I mean, the dude just won an Olympic gold medal, and one of the first things he does is thank a competitor?

Most of us need extra inspiration and motivation from time to time.  That’s why we set goals, create habits, and rely on friends, family, and blogs to keep us going.  We shouldn’t fear lack of motivation or inspiration, but understand that all athletes are searching for what keeps them going.

Even Olympians.

Failure

Olympic athletes, of any sport, are the best of the best at what they do.  But even the best fail:

  • Shawn White, probably the best snowboarder of all time, failed to medal at this year’s games.
  • Speed Skater Shani Davis, the two-time 1000 meter gold medal winner, came up short of the podium.
  • And Russia’s Anton Gafarov, who fell and broke his ski halfway through the cross country sprint final, didn’t quit when he knew he couldn’t win.  He got up and limped his way to the finish, broken ski and all, crossing the line nearly 3 minutes after the leaders.

We’re talking about some of the best athletes in the world.  And even they have bad days.

When I have a bad day of training, or worse, a terrible race, it’s hard to remind myself why I went out there in the first place.  I know deep down that it wasn’t for a win or a cash prize, it was because I love the sport, and I love the way running pushes me to new limits.

But when things are tough, that’s hard to remember.

Tough days, bad races, and yes failure are all part of every athlete’s life.  And we need to love those days just as much as great ones.

Celebration

Of course the Olympics is also full of celebration and great achievements.  These are the stories we hold on to, and share viral videos of with our friends.

Like the beautiful story of Canadian skier Alex Bilodeau, who dedicated his second gold medal to his brother with Cerebral Palsy.

And American female skull racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, who just missed a medal in Vancouver, only to win silver at the Sochi games.  That podium winning race was her last before entering retirement.

What a way to go out.

The Olympics is full of things to celebrate, just as the average runner’s life.  We might not be setting world records or representing our countries, but we’re working hard, running PRs, and pushing ourselves to the limits.

We’re representing our families, our friends, our communities, and ourselves.  We’re showing everyone who’s watching, even if it’s just the kid riding his bike past you down the sidewalk, that with dedication, a little inspiration, and no fear of failure, anyone can do something incredible.

Just like an Olympian.

Act Like an Olympian

So if that wasn’t cheesy enough for you, think about it this way:

You and me, we’re not so different than the Olympians on TV.  It’s time we start acting like the athletes we really are.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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