Sports lovers the world over are gripped with Olympic fever as we witness crescendo after crescendo on track, field and pool.
The Olympics dish out the best of the human spirit during competition and lift out spirits to the point where they soar, bound together in marvel at what human beings can achieve under tremendous pressure.
Journalists are taught not to use the world “unbelievable” especially in the face of evidence to the contrary. By far, the biggest and most dramatic upset to date has been Chad Le Clos pipping Olympic great Michael Phelps at the final touch by all of 0,05 seconds! Unbelievable! He went on three days later to win silver behind his idol. This is what success looks like.
Before success, however, is the journey to the Olympic final starting line-up. According to Wikipedia, by the time he started competing at the age of 10, young Le Clos already had several years training under his belt. I am reminded of Don Black, who used to wake his three children up in the wee hours of the morning to train — Byron, Wayne and Cara — in tennis.
I had several occasions to play five-a-side soccer with Byron and my workmates outside their house in Greendale and he was just as competitive as when he was playing in a cup final.
Competitiveness was second nature to him and it was nurtured over the years from a young age. The lesson for Zimbabwean parents is clear: If you dream of seeing your child on the podium; if you envy the pictures of the Le Clos and Phelps parents crying tears of joy, you have to make the “little” sacrifice of getting up early to take them on a run and repeating the same thing in the evening after work to drive behind them as they run or cycle along a quiet farm road.
The day after he won gold, the SABC website quoted his mother as saying: “The family sacrificed a lot” to get Chad to where he is today.
For young Zimbabweans who remember the heroics of Kirsty Coventry, the Black siblings and Peter Ndlovu, you are not short of heroes.
It is the same in the world of business. I know lots of people who attend seminar after seminar taking copious amounts of notes and then putting them away in an office desk and returning to more pressing issues of the day at work. We want the recipe given to us, but we do not always want to do what the role model has done to move from hypothesis, to trial and error to the final theory, practice and results. We just want the conclusion. It is not unexpected of human beings, but it is unreasonable.
Chad began to follow his hero Phelps in 2004 — and look at the way he “studied” him: “I used to watch how he executed his strokes and tried to emulate him. He was really such a good swimmer and his turns are, I believe, still the best in the world.”
I know many readers of this column will have read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The lesson is the same.
Chad tried to emulate Phelps over thousands of hours until he got it right enough to make it to the starting line-up right next to his hero and our next lesson arrives at this point. In Korea-Japan 2002, the English team was about taking on mighty Brazil in the quarter-finals of the Fifa World cup. After England failed to beat 10-man Brazil, one of the players was later quoted as saying how they all marvelled at the names on the Brazil team sheet in their changing room before kickoff.
They had lost the match before kicking a ball, in anger! Now picture Chad Le Clos lining up against the greatest Olympian of all time; Instead of weeping, wailing and gnashing his teeth, Chad’s attitude is best summed up in this pre-final quote “It would be great to swim next to him, but I will not stay a fan, as I need to beat him.”
Innerzela readers must understand that Le Clos went in to the final with the second-best time to compete against an Olympian who had amassed close to twenty medals and who was acknowledged as the greatest Olympian of all time.
Everyone, including commentators during the race expected Phelps to take it comfortably, but racing is racing. Le Clos surged just one more time at the death and made history in a race that will be talked about and remembered for a very long time in Olympic lore.
It was not only Le Clos who surged from an impossible position. The South African rowing team were sitting in fourth a thousand metres into a two thousand metre race. That is an unenviable position, but by keeping to their race strategy and in keeping with their tradition of finishing the last 500m strongly, they too surged past the opposition to win gold.
The Independent online quoted Sizwe Ndlovu as follows:
“Of course I believed — you have to believe it to go through the race,” Ndlovu said.
“From the start, the conditions were good and we went through the race with nice rhythm.
“It was at the halfway mark that I really believed we’d got it and we were fine.”
Zimbabwean athletes of the future can do it too.