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Five Career and Life Lessons From the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a Celebration of Team USA’s Female Athletes on the World Stage

Posted on: September 24th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

So, sure, this topic is a little late, but I still think there are lessons we can learn from the athletes of the 2020, now 2021, Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The American spirit was on full display, the best of the best competing for the gold seemed to bring our nation together in a time of pandemic, politics, and uncertainty.

And likely, you were into it too.

There were tears and upsets. Photo finishes and unbelievable world records set. Some of your favorite familiar faces and new ones alike, competing in some events you know well and some new ones you hadn’t seen before.

Even before the games got underway, there were big headlines and controversy surrounding the competition.  One of the biggest draws of the Tokyo Olympics, the talented and charismatic American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, was banned from competing.

A year delayed, this Olympics seemed to have more hype, more pressure, more eyes on it than ever. Likely you handpicked a few of these superhumans to follow, to support. And you cheered. In fact, you may have stayed up way too late to watch the once-in-four-yearectacle of it all. 

Because you enjoy witnessing top talent, a diverse group of humans who train hard and are at the top of their sport, the peak of their careers. The mere act of watching these competitors ignites your desire to raise the bar of your own performance.

“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”

– Edmund Lee

But what can we take away from these games? 

Here are five lessons you can learn from and apply to your everyday life, both personally and professionally.

  1. You’re Worth More Than Other People’s Opinions

This year, more than any other, you saw this on display. You witnessed Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time and the face of the 2020 Olympics, prioritize her own mental and physical health. On what some would argue as the biggest stage in the world, she pulled out of the team finals, as well as the individual all-around, vault, floor, and uneven bars. 

“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to take a step back.”

– Simone Biles

With one event left, the balance beam, she decided to compete. And she won bronze.

In speaking of her win, Biles said “it means more than all of the golds because I’ve pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here.”

Biles is the epitome of grace, humility, and leadership, and she showed us all that elite athletes are human beings first and foremost. She boldly demonstrated her worth, and that it’s way more important than other people’s opinions… 

  1. Greatness Begets Greatness

In the much anticipated men’s 400-meter hurdles, two men broke the world record during the final heat – Karsten Warholm of Norway with the gold and Rai Benjamin of the United States with the silver.

And that’s saying something. Before this summer, the world record stood for over 29 years, more years than the 25-year-old Warholm has been on this planet. 

“I told myself going into the race to remember all the work you have put in. I knew this race was going to be the toughest of my life, but I was ready. Now I need to set myself new goals, I don’t think I’m done yet.”

– Karsten Warholm

It goes to show that speed begets speed, and greatness begets greatness.When you achieve great things, you have the traction to continue to achieve great things. 

  1. Achievement is Best Shared

In the grueling men’s high jump competition, something unheard of happened. With the final two men tied for first-place after hours of competing in the hot sun, locked in what the track world calls a jump-off, Mutaz Essa Barshim paused to ask… “how about two golds?”

And in what was truly an act of sportsmanship, love, and acceptance, good friends Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both took home the gold medal.

“He’s one of my best friends. Not only on the track but outside of the track. We’re always together. It’s true spirit, coming here and delivering this message. Appreciate what he’s done, he appreciates what I’ve done. This is amazing. This is beyond sport, this is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

– Mutaz Essa Barshim

The lesson here? Achievement is best shared. When you put in the work, deliver your very best, and build strong relationships along the way, take the time to celebrate the results together.

  1. Regroup and Recenter

The US Women’s soccer team had quite the showing during the 2020 Olympics. These athletes were favored for gold but were knocked out of contention for it after losing in the semifinals to a strong Canadian team. The score? 1-0. 

After their shared grief and disappointment, the team rallied in the game to determine the bronze medal. Win, you get a medal. Lose, well, you go home empty-handed.

The team regrouped, recentered, and did what they set out to do. In fact, team veterans Megan Rapinoe and Carli Llloyd both scored two goals, clinching a 4-3 win along with the bronze medal.

“Hopefully, everyone on this squad and people watching and people that have been in the pool remember that we don’t win championships without the U.S. mentality. That probably has been the biggest takeaway from this tournament, and we need to continue to bring that each and every day. Each and every game. … that, ultimately, is our secret weapon.”

– Carli Lloyd

A strong team bond, the ability to recenter, and the U.S. mentality delivered a medal to these female athletes.

  1. You’re Never Too [Insert Adjective]

You get to insert the adjective here. You’re never too old, too young, too stuck, too small-town, too remote, too anything, really. You get to write your story, you get to try, no matter your adjective.

And while there were many examples of  this through the Olympic games, two of the most riveting were Lydia Jacoby, the 17 year old from Seward, Alaska who won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. And for the record, there’s only one olympic sized swimming pool in the state.  This is a person with big dreams, huge talent, and seemingly very little resources. She didn’t let that stop her. 

Another phenom, Wisconsin native Molly Seidel, won bronze in the marathon. It was the third marathon race she ever ran.  And she came in third. Third in the world.  She clearly believed in herself and didn’t listen to others who say you need more practice. You need more experience. Who are you to think you can compete with more seasoned runners?  She gave it a shot and come out on the podium.

“I came in today with not a whole lot of expectations. I was hoping to be in the top ten. Just trying to like stick my nose where it didn’t belong and just kind of get after it. I mean, Olympics only happens once every four years, you might as well take your shot.”

– Molly Seidel

Powerful women pursuing their dreams, competing until the end, and believing in themselves. Never letting anyone tell them their too inexperienced or too young. If they can do it, so can you. 

A Celebration of Team USA Female Athletes 

Team USA had a strong showing in Tokyo, leading the medal count and continuing its legacy of greatness. Even in a year of delay, even in two years of pandemic and controversy.

And it was clear, U.S. women dominated. The female athletes won over 58% of the medals secured by the United States – 66 medals to the men’s 41. 

Or, as reported by USA Today, “If U.S. women were their own country, they would have finished fourth in the Olympic medal count, ahead of Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Germany and nearly 200 other countries, and behind only the entire U.S. team, China and the Russian Olympic Committee.”

In fact, the 2004 Olympics in Athens was the last time U.S. men brought home more medals than their female counterparts – 55 medals to the women’s 40. That’s four consecutive Summer Olympics in which the U.S. women came out on top.

As showcased by Time Magazine, “on the final day of competition alone, the U.S. women’s basketball team won a seventh straight gold, the women’s volleyball team took its first-ever gold, and Jennifer Valente won America’s first-ever track cycling gold in the omnium. This flip speaks to the momentum building for women’s sports in the U.S.; the Olympics will only help push this movement forward.”

It’s true, women are more empowered than ever. They are tapping into their authentic strength and intuition, and the results speak volumes. Let’s take time to celebrate our female athletes as we remember they are human beings, beautiful, complicated, whole beings, just like you and me. 

“If you give girls and women the same investment, opportunity and access, their potential, like all people, is unlimited.”

– Billie King


Continued Reading:

TIME: The 9 Most Inspiring and Surprising Things I Saw At The Tokyo Olympics

USA Today: US Women Dominated Medal Count at Tokyo Olympics in Ways They’ve Never Done Before


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