Lessons are to be learned from these Olympic Games. Some of the lessons are standard fare - athletes excelling in the face of adversity; teamwork making the whole greater than the sum of its parts; Cinderella stories; underdogs capturing our hearts; and the list goes on. Probably the most valuable lesson that can be learned from these Games, however, is that of perception becoming reality.
Does anyone think that, for example, Bode Miller's disappointing showing (0-for-5 in the ski events) is based on anything besides the perception of him as a partier that he has not only embraced but also propagated? In other words, if the stories about Bode going into these Games were about a positive gentlemen who was an ambassador of the sport and who was a great role model and who was lighting the skiing world on fire with his victories and top performances, do you really think his results would have been the same? I don't.
Or, take the drama on the Oval Lingoto between Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. Regardless of what type of person Davis really is, the one interview I saw with him - after he won the 1,000 gold - made me really dislike the man. He showed no respect for anything with his mono-syllabic, stone-faced answers. Hedrick, too, showed a lack of respect for the competition with his comments after earning silver in the 10,000 - basically, "I toyed with my skating partner then sprinted away to demoralize him. It worked and, thus, nobody cares more or worked harder for a medal than I did." Should it surprise anyone that, in the face of such egotism and in the face of such hostility between these two skaters that both fell short of both personal and media-driven expectations?
Or, take the US female in snowboard cross, Lindsey Jacobellis. She had the gold so sewn up that she felt a little victory hot dogging at the end was justified. Does a little edge grab, muffs the landing, ends up on her back and by the time she recovers is gliding down the final hill for silver. First thing out of her mouth is excuses and denial; comments she later rescinded and owned up to her huge ego-driven mistake.
While the above three examples are US athlete-related, there are similar examples with non-US athletes. But, it is telling that the three most prominent stories about falling short of expectations include US athletes. So, how does this apply to you and me? Well, first of all, the adage of "Speak softly and carry a big stick" comes to mind. So, too, does "Actions speak louder than words." Just go out there and do it. No one really cares about how hard you have prepared or how many hours/miles you've put in. Save it. Keep that info to yourself. Let your preparation give you power. By speaking about it, by talking about how you can party hard and still win races, by bragging about yourself. . . all you are doing is siphoning away your power. You are setting yourself up for disappointment and for let down. You're not really giving yourself any options for the outcome.
Bode's cavalier attitude sealed his fate all those months ago when he gave those interviews. He was literally doomed to failure. On the flip side, Darrin Rhalves. Very classy guy, very hard working. Very respected on the circuit. Usually pretty soft-spoken. Very much on fire the last handful of World Cup races leading into the Olympics. But, what did he say at these Games? He basically said, "I am my only competition here.” One might think he meant that he only races against himself because he can't control how others ski. But, what he actually meant was that no one will ski as well as he, so the only way he won't win gold is if he messes up. The only one he has to worry about is himself. Well, guess what? He got stomped. Big time.
And who won the Super G? An "old timer” who was called "soft and really out of shape". A veteran who knew how to get things done, who had torn up his knee in the downhill earlier in the week, but who slid in under the radar. Because there was no spotlight on him, because there was no bleeding of his energy by the media, he was able to focus on the task at hand. Singularly so. And he won.
I guess what I'm getting at is allow your preparation to do the talking for you. Don't do the talking for your preparation. Hone your focus and harness that energy, then let it all rip in the race. If you suffer from diarrhea of the mouth when talking about yourself, your training, your exploits, then you’re not leaving yourself much - if any - wiggle room for error. But, you are certainly setting up a large stage for disappointment. People scorn losers and respect winners. But, being a winner is less about standing atop the podium than it is about how we handle ourselves.
Handle yourself like a champion and, regardless of the end result, you will be a champion. Your results will mean something because your journey will have been meaningful.