Lessons from the 2016 Olympics for Sri Lanka

Tuesday, 23 August 2016 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

However tight our schedules, there were some of us who allocated time to watch the Olympics. To be honest, I was obsessed. Not by the Olympic medals that were won but by the story behind each winner; their struggle and triumph. Their achievements hold a lesson for each of us, be it on a personal or business level.

16-2Australian athlete Michelle Jenneke has over 28 million hits on YouTube

Olympic medallists do not make money

Even though staging an Olympics costs about $ 10 billion-$ 40 billion, during the last couple of games, sadly, most athletes did not make any money. They actually do not make a lot of money off their sports outside of the Games either. 

Fifty percent of track athletes who ranked in the top 10 in the US in their events earned less than $ 15,000 annually from the sport. Edward Etzel, an ex-Olympic shooter, spoke recently from personal experience of the difficulties that the best of the best had to go through to achieve their dreams, which is very sad considering that a tennis star can make between $ 2 million and $ 3 million playing for a month. I guess these are the inequalities of the world, although the lessons from the Olympics are not about money. Let me share some of them.

Olympic lesson 1: Mo Farah in the 10,000 m 

Somali-born Mo Farah emigrated from the country when he was just eight to join his father in England. He could not speak a word of English when he came to the UK. His middle school coach Alan Natskin helped him buy his first pair of spikes and taught him English. 

Many rebuked him for being Muslim and black. At the London games when he won the 5000 m and the 10,000 m events he said: “I have proved I am a worthy citizen of England,” and he went on to run a lap of honour draped in the British flag. In Rio 2016, partway through the 10,000 m final, he tripped and fell but he got up and caught up with the Kenyan runner Paul Kipngetich Tanui and then beat him over the last 200 m. Farah knelt down, kissed the ground and prayed. 

Lesson for business: Many times we fall during our business career when the world tends to rebuke us. Some do this publicly while others in a more private way. We show character when we stay calm and keep picking up the pieces and once again proving the critics wrong. 

Especially in an island nation like Sri Lanka, we have to stay strong and keep being focused. Mo Farah did not argue with the critics but stayed focused on his task. Today he is giving leadership to England. He will be the brand ambassador for a multicultural society following Brexit.

Olympic lesson 2: 100 m Gold for Thompson

Elaine Thompson, the training partner of Olympic gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, beat her in the last 50 meters in a stunning upset in the blue-riband 100 m women’s event. Both women are trained by the same coach. A magnanimous Fraser-Pryce said: “What I’m most happy about is that the 100 m title is staying in Jamaica. I’m on the podium with my training partner. I’m proud 16-Rohanthaof Jamaica - just look at my hair (which was coloured the green and gold of the Jamaican flag).”

Lesson for business: Let’s accept it - Sri Lanka is going through a tough time politically and business-wise. The country requires support to pull though these challenging times. We are burdened with a debt bill that needs to be restructured. We need to even out the political challenge and then have a strong provincial government so that policy activation can happen. The private sector has to help the Government ride this wave so that economic growth can be focused on through investment. To be honest we have no option.

Olympic lesson 3: Tennis Gold for Murray

Andy Murray was at one time regarded as a tennis player who could not pass the semi-final stage. In fact he had come to eight semi-finals and lost. The world had branded him a person who did not have what it took to win. When he came to his first Wimbledon finals and lost, the media labelled him a crybaby. But Murray did not give up. His biggest fan was his mum. 

He went on to win Wimbledon twice, then the US Open and last week became the only tennis player to win a double at the Olympics. Murray admitted that the whole Olympic experience had been amazing but draining following his four-set, gold medal-winning victory over Juan Martin Del Potro in the singles final on Rio’s Centre Court on Sunday night.

Lesson for business: So many times we tend to get distracted by what is going on around us, forgetting the race we are running. We cannot change the perception around us all the time. Even if we can it is very time-consuming. It is better to simply focus on our task and worry less about our distractions or competitors. I still remember my trainer telling me to focus on the reality and stay focused on your own lane, not anyone else’s and pray. The actual winner always emerges. It’s very tough to keep good talent away from achievement.

Olympic lesson 4: Bolt wins 100 m Gold

The media has said that Rio got what it paid for. When Bolt completed a triple-triple there was absolute mayhem in the stadium as the world witnessed an occurrence that had never been seen in the world, a feat that no man has achieved. 

Against a backdrop of flawed behaviour he swept the world clean. People clapped and bowed. I guess there will be faster men in the future as the sport develops (it is estimated that one day man will run a 100 m in eight seconds) but Bolt has carved a niche in history against all odds.

Lesson for business: Olympic athletes don’t just win by physical training alone; they have to visualise their success. In fact Bolt once said: “You have to train your mind like you train your body.”  

We in business will suffer from bouts of decline or stagnation given the market conditions. Apparently an Asian banking tsunami is predicted to hit shortly. But I guess we have to visualise a winning situation and keep the pressure on. Find new markets and keep the motivation up in our team. It’s tough given the political economy that is at play but that is what it takes to do business in the Third World.

16-1The world is not likely to soon see another triple-triple in Olympic athletics

Olympic lesson 5: Anna Kournikova of athletics

While there are many top athletes who have emerged over the years, a name that earned 28 million likes on YouTube was Australian athlete Michelle Jenneke. The Youth Olympic silver medallist hurdler earned her name not for her performances, even though she qualified for the Rio games from the Australian team, but for a pre-race warm-up dance she did four years ago. It became viral on social media and she was the most talked about athlete and top-dollar female personality in Australia. 

Lesson for business: It is strange but sometimes for one to get through the clutter one needs to instil creativity and out-of-the-box communication. There are many brands in Sri Lanka that have got a strong share of media with almost no costs due to a creative idea. I guess we have to emulate the 28 million likes of Michelle Jenneke to cut through the clutter. This is very true for Sri Lanka Tourism given that the overall numbers are at a plus 19% but the two large corporates are at a growth on top line at below 5%. We as a team need to see how this can be addressed. 



"Many times we fall during our business career when the world tends to rebuke us. Some do this publicly while others in a more private way. We show character when we stay calm and keep picking up the pieces and once again proving the critics wrong"



Olympic lesson 6: Phelps wins 22 Golds

The 22 gold medals Michael Phelps won during the last decade are more than the tally of almost 70 countries. A few short years ago though the greatest Olympian of all time was suddenly facing one challenge after the other in his personal life which resulted in problems in his professional life. It’s a textbook upper limit problem. Phelps overcame them all. Not only did he overcome his problems to make an appearance in Rio, he’s killed it in every single one of his races. 

Lesson for business: This is one of the most important Olympic business lessons of all - be mindful of when you’re sabotaging your success and immediately start to correct your course. Apart from coming out of retirement and winning his 22nd gold medal, he said of Joseph Schooling, whom he met 8 years ago and lost to in one of his races, “Believe in kids and their dreams. Support them. I never knew that a kid I met 8 years ago wanted to beat me and he did with determination.” 

Olympic lesson 7: 1,000 spies 

Believe it or not the US sent 1,000 top-notch spies to Rio to ensure that al-Qaida did not get the best of the world’s attention. Many did not even know that the US had 17 intelligent units in the country.

Lesson for business: Though the US and Brazil are archrivals in business and finance, sometimes rivals become the most important allies for challenges that the world throws at us. 


(The author is a sports enthusiast and has a black belt in karate while being a kickboxing practitioner. The thoughts presented in this article are strictly his personal views and have no links to the organisations he serves in the private or public sector).

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