Source: News Limited
By Marcus Shockley
Usain Bolt and the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team both showed the power of competition during this year’s London games. Four years ago, Usain Bolt exploded on the global stage by running away – literally – from the fastest people on the planet and making it look easy. During his 100 meter sprint victory in 2008, Bolt didn’t just win; he made everyone else look like they were running backwards. At that time, he was unmatched in speed in a way that hadn’t been seen, setting world records by finishing several steps ahead of the other runners whenever he raced.
Four years later, Bolt is still outrunning the competition – and smashing his own world records – but the gap between Bolt and the other runners has closed considerably. So consider this: while Usain Bolt, the fastest man of all time, is now faster than he’s ever been, the competition is still closer than it was four years ago.
The reason for this is one of the more astounding things in human psychology.
We, as humans, are notorious for competing with each other and we use it to drive ourselves forward. But there are two cases where competition drives us in ways that are nearly impossible to define. Once we see someone achieve a goal that was thought to be impossible, it changes our mindset completely, and we find that we can achieve things that we never expected.
The most famous instance of this is the four-minute-mile, which was thought to be humanly impossible for thousands of years, until it was broken by Roger Bannister in 1954. Once Bannister proved that it could be done, it was a short matter of time before other runners also broke the mark. Today, the four minute mile is the standard for male middle distance runners.
What was once thought to be humanly impossible is now commonplace.
When Bolt raced away from the world in 2008, it sparked a slew of runners who wanted to catch him – and this year in the World Championships, fellow Jamaican runner Johan Blake did just that, beating Bolt and shocking the world. This is exactly what would be expected – once Bolt proved that it could be done, others would follow suit. However, this competition also spurred Bolt; he reacted by returning to the 2012 Olympic games and again breaking his records and taking the gold in the 100m and 200m sprints. Driven by competition from Blake and the United States sprinters, he again achieved what was thought to be the impossible.
The U.S. men’s basketball team is another case of competition raising everyone’s level of play. The United States team was once made up solely of amateurs. For years, the U.S. was able to compete for gold by using collegiate players even though the rest of the world was stocking their teams with professionals. However, just as with Bolt and Roger Bannister, the rest of the world caught up with the United States and the global teams were more talented than what the U.S. was putting on the court. It was because of this that the United States decided to put it’s own pros on its Olympic team, and thus, the Dream Team was born in 1992, running away from the competition once again.
Now, in 2012, twenty years after the original Dream Team, the U.S. men’s basketball team is still winning gold – but it isn’t quite as clear cut. Spain, the team who took silver in this year’s game, has a starting lineup of players who are all in the NBA. Even though the United States has arguably more “star power” on it’s squad, it’s become clear that the world is catching up – and the U.S. will need to keep improving to stay on top. This is the power of competition; without an opponent to truly challenge us, we may stagnate.
But while it’s important to understand that we can use competition to our advantage, it’s also worth noting that Usain Bolt and Roger Bannister were not chasing anyone except their own goals when they shocked the sports world. That’s where being self-motivated becomes an additional asset that is rarely seen. What drove Bannister to achieve something that others thought was impossible? That’s the real kicker. That’s what ultimately separates Micheal Jordan from all those who have come after him. When people talk about the “next Jordan”, many names have come up over the years: Harold Minor, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James. But The “next Jordan” has come already, several times. It just didn’t happen on the basketball court.
Self motivated individuals who revolutionized their sport are rare – so much so that the likelihood of it being another basketball player are almost unfathomably small. Tiger Woods was the “next Jordan”. So was Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt is the latest “Jordan” type great. These are the individuals who break the boundaries and change how we view their sports, and sometimes change how we view the world.