“It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete, but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.”- Herb Elliott, Australian runner

“The quadrennial celebration of the springtime of humanity. […] May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure.” – Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games

There’s something magical about the Olympic games. More than 10,000 athletes from every corner of the globe come together in celebration of humanity at its best. Competitors push themselves in the quest for greatness while feeling, as six-time Canadian medalist Clara Hughes described, “completely alive as a human being.”

From modern names like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, Andy Murray, and Katie Ledecky, to legendary figures of the past like Jesse Owens, Mary Lou Retton, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and more, Olympians are inspirational in their pursuit of personal excellence. Whether in the arena, or through a television broadcast, we’re invited to share in the powerful feelings of excitement, joy, and meaning that flows through these athletes.

While we might not all be capable of competing at the games, we can all learn from them.

Becoming Our Highest Selves

Our incredibly adaptive bodies transform according to the demands we make of them, and Olympic athletes have demanded more from their bodies than most. They’re the best in the world at moving their bodies in a particular way – running, swimming, throwing, spinning, jumping, rowing and more.

For many athletes, this process comes with the gift of self-discovery. According to USSR four-time Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, Olga Korbut, “This ability to conquer oneself is no doubt the most precious of all things sports bestows.”

For the rest of us, their accomplishments serve as evidence of what we’re capable of. We, who share in physical form and awareness, are inspired: look what’s possible for human beings to do when we dedicate ourselves to something. Look at how we can run and jump and swim and move. “Most other competitions are individual achievements,” says Scott Hamilton, American figure skater and gold medalist, “but the Olympic Games is something that belongs to everybody.”

When Olympians perform their amazing feats, all of us rejoice at the beautiful and brilliant potential of the human race. “What keeps me going,” says five-time USA diving coach Ron O’Brien, “[is] the quest for reaching potential in myself as a coach and my kids as divers. It’s the pursuit of excellence.”

10,000 Hours & Personal Pursuits of Excellence

While we can’t all pursue a path that leads to the Olympic Games, excellence is available to anyone willing to practice. As American gymnast and 1984 gold medalist Mary Lou Retton shares, “as simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of the talents we’ve been given.”

The one factor that all athletes at the games share is the tremendous amount of time they put into their disciplines. It’s a common theme: countless hours spent in the gym, track, or pool. Whether 10,000 hours, or 1,000, or 50,000, that time has molded them into the people they are today.

That same opportunity awaits each of us. With incremental gains over time, we can train ourselves to do anything. When we get a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better each day, those gains add up.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. “We all have dreams,” said Jesse Owens, American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in 1936. “In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”

All of which begs the question: what are you putting your time towards? (For me, the current focus is mastering my mind, living from love, and finding fulfillment giving my greatest gifts in greatest service.)

Commonalities & Universal Truths

Fun fact: there are more teams represented in the Olympics than there are countries in the world. The 207 teams include the 196 commonly recognized independent countries, plus 9 dependent countries or territories with National Olympic Committees, a refugee team, and an independent team.1

In many cases, without looking at what the athlete is wearing or the on-screen graphics, it’s tough to say for sure what country someone is from. Yes, people of certain genetic types are more likely to be from certain areas of the world, but really there’s no certainty. Many countries, especially places like America and Great Britain, are represented by people of all backgrounds. And, within any particular discipline, the athletes are more similar than they are different.

We share more than just appearances. Although there are three official Olympic languages, (French, English, and whatever the official language of the Games’ host country is)2 there’s no official information on the number of languages represented at the games. It doesn’t really matter – at the Olympics, we’re more interested in what the words represent than the particular choices used.

Whether the athletes are announced as gagnants, winners, or vencedores – it all means the same. So why get so worked up when we use different words for that common human spirit which we share? God, Tao, Allah, Universe, Spirit, Jehovah, Creativity, Evolution – it all means the same.

At the end of the day, we are a community of individuals, sharing a particular existence in a much larger world. We like to have fun. We like to creatively transform energy, express ourselves, challenge ourselves, and to grow. The Olympics remind us of that. As Jackie Joyner-Kersee once said, “We live in a world where sports have the potential to bridge the gap between racism, sexism, and discrimination.”

Let’s extend the bridge.

Remembering To Have Fun

Great athletes share another thing in common – they have fun. In many ways, that’s exactly what the Olympics are about: a celebration of humanity collectively coming together to play.

According to the reigning world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, joy, fun, and focus are inseparable. “For me, it all goes together,” said Bolt. “It goes together. Just being with the fans, dancing, joking around, having fun, the competition – it all goes together.”

Both gold medal winners from the gymnastic all-around competitions in Rio would agree. For Japan’s Kōhei Uchimura, his goal was to “remember to always have fun.” Simone Biles’ coach gave her similar advice before the final event: “have fun!”

What kind of reality do you want to create? Are you open to having fun while doing the work to make it happen? You may be surprised by what you can accomplish. As three-time American gold medalist runner Wilma Rudolph says, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.”

  1. https://www.quora.com/Are-there-more-countries-competing-in-the-Olympics-than-exist-in-the-world []
  2. http://blog.globalizationpartners.com/news-the-official-languages-of-rio-2016.aspx []