The Inside Track - Despair, a Gold Medal, and a new beginning


The Olympic Games is always a special time for me. I have great memories from 1988 in Seoul when I won Gold in the 100m Breaststroke. It was the highlight of my sporting career and was the culmination of 18 years of swimming, striving to be the best I could be. Little did I know at the time but it turned out to be much more than that. It was the beginning of my new life as a business leader and the lessons I learnt in sport still serve me well today as Managing Director of Lane4.

I’d had to deal with a lot before the 1988 Olympics. In 1984 in Los Angeles I’d been the favourite to win Gold having been World Number One for most of that year, but I found the pressure too much to deal with and eventually finished 4th in the final. There was a lot of negative press after that and I was completely written off. I realised that I needed to be able to handle the intense pressure that an Olympic Games brings.

I started to focus on control. What was I in control of? There was a lot of pressure before the final in 1988, but the pressure was coming mainly from myself, so I was in control of that. I knew the opponents that I’d be racing against, and I knew exactly what I had to do to win the race, so I was in control of that. I also knew that even if I lost, I’d be ok as I’d experienced that already four years previously. So I came to realise that I was in complete control of the situation. That allowed me to go out and focus on my race and ultimately win the Gold Medal that I’d worked my whole life towards.

Retiring from sport and starting my own business came with its own unique challenges. One of the biggest for me was going from working as an individual performer to working as a leader of a team. I went from just focusing on my own performance, goals and motivations to having to recognise that other people had different views that needed to be considered. All of a sudden, there were a lot of things I had to deal with, and it was difficult to know where to start.

So again, I asked myself what was I in control of? This really helped me to focus only on the things that I could make a difference to and that would improve the performance of me and my team. It can be easy to get caught up in things out of your control such as your competitors performance or the state of the economy. In asking myself what was in my control I was able to focus on the important things such as our strategy, the quality of our products and the well-being of my team.

This approach still sticks with me today and has helped me personally, as well as many people in my team or in my clients.

I will be in Rio commentating on the Swimming for the BBC. Adam Peaty, from Great Britain, is the favourite to win Gold in the same event I did 28 years ago. If he can handle the pressure and control the controllables he’s got a great chance of winning. Who knows what lessons he’ll learn from his experience and where he’ll be in 28 years’ time.

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