The Inside Track – The Performance Environment of Olympic Trials


As we head into the business end of the season with three weeks to go to the Rio Games I’ve found myself monitoring results from the various Olympic Trials from around the globe.

The U.S. track and field Olympic Trials are always an all or nothing affair. Past performance, history, stature and season form count for nothing going into this competition. The past is erased. It becomes a brutal gladiatorial affair where the hopes, aspirations and dreams of tasting Olympic glory are only continued for those who finish of the top three in their respective events.

A brilliant illustration of this was the Men’s Long Jump competition on day three of the U.S. Championships. In a pulsating competition six athletes leapt over the 8m 30cms mark. To put this into perspective, in 2009 the British Long Jump record stood at this mark. In a competition that was in the main wind assisted, a wind speed in excess of 2 metres per second, Jeffery Henderson emerged as the victor leaping to 8m 59cms just one centimetre ahead of Jarrion Lawson who improved his legal personal best by 24cms. There were a flurry of personal and season bests amongst the top six athletes but only three have earned the right to tickets for the greatest sporting show on earth.

For me this acts as an thought provoking metaphor for organisations. How well formed is the high performance environment in the organisations that we lead? By this I mean when the opportunity emerges is it inevitable that our people will thrive and flourish in the pressure and deliver excellence across the board?

In the starkest way the U.S. trials applies a non-judgemental lens. In no uncertain terms it demands that its athletes are at their best at a given point of time irrespective of whether they are a world record holder, defending champion or newbie to the trials. The push-back to us as leaders is how skilled are we at demonstrating belief in potential and applying a non-judgemental frame in the workplace?

The Jamaican Olympic Trials also caught my eye as the men’s 100m was won by Yohan Blake, in lane 4, in a time of 9.95. The real story was however in lane 5, or rather who was absent from that lane. The six time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt received medical exemption from competing in the final as he suffered a grade one tear to his left hamstring. Bolt is hoping to show fitness at the London Anniversary Games on July 22nd so faces a somewhat different race against time. There are no fresh superlatives that I can write to do the world record holder justice. It actually seems abhorrent that he may well be absent from Rio. Bolt’s ability to sustain a stellar level of performance since becoming the first man in Olympic history to win both the 100m and 200m in world record times in 2008 is unparalleled in the sport.

The challenge here is what can we do for our people to not only help them to deliver their own work place ‘personal best performances’ but also how can we develop their resilience so that they are able to harness their learning mindset and deliver excellence over the long term to maximise their career potential?


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