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What We Can Learn from Olympic Champions
By: John Naber

Not only was I an Olympic swimming champion (4 gold, 1 silver), but I am also a devoted Olympic Games fan. When I watch 380 pound professional football players or seven foot tall basketball players, I am understandably in awe of their massive physiology, but to be honest, I have a hard time relating to them. When I watch the young men and women who represent their countries at the Olympic Games, however, it is their “ordinariness” that shines through. We watch as little boys and girls with the help of their moms and dads, perform extraordinary feats of athletic achievement, and we think, “If they can do it, so can I!”

The Olympic Motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” is Latin for “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.” It does not say “Swiftest, Highest, Strongest” because the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, wanted to use sport as a means to improve society and make people better. He was less interested in honoring the excellent than he was in encouraging the devoted.

When I address my keynote audiences, I want each person in the room to feel like they are representing their country on an international scale, and I also want teach them how they can accomplish their own personal and professional goals, regardless spite of what others around them are capable of. That’s one of the many reason reasons my “Gold Medal Process” speech has been so well received over the years.

As I walk my audience through my “Gold Medal Process” (How to see your dreams come true) I share entertaining stories from Olympic history that articulate the steps champions in all walks of life use to see their personal dreams become reality. I have found that my audiences react better to anecdotes and parables than to lectures and directions.

An added bonus about my Olympic story-telling is that my anecdotes (taken from a variety of Olympic examples) are constantly being updated with each new edition of the Olympic Games. When I talk about overcoming obstacles for example, I can replace the story of Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board with the story about how Kerry Strug landed her vault on a twisted ankle, or how Apollo Anton Ono bounced back from a crash, to put his skate across the finish line.

I realized early on in my career, that there is not much value in society at large for being able to swim quickly while on your back. But if my experience can shed light on how to make a personal dream more accessible and achievable, then I will have made a significant contribution to the people who have come to hear me speak.

An added bonus to having an Olympians address your meeting is the inherent power of what I call the “Olympic hardware.” Whenever time allows for it, I like to pose for pictures with members of my audience, where I can put a medal around their neck or place an Olympic torch in their hand, or put an Olympic pin on their lapel. The power of these items is truly remarkable as it seems to double their excitement and enthusiasm in a matter of moments.

You can purchase that same thrill from wearing a Super Bowl ring I suppose, but you’ll probably have to pay a lot more for a professional athlete than one who came out of the “amateur ranks” of sport. Can you relate to that?

John Naber is a five time Olympic medal winner (swimming, 1976), a network television sports announcer, and lecturer on a variety of topics including teamwork, innovation and ethical achievement. He is the author of Awaken the Olympian Within and Eureka, How Innovation Changes the Olympics and Everything Else.

Copyright © 2010 John Naber. All Rights Reserved.

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