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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slow and Steady, With a Kick

Here's my favorite sports video, from the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. It's the 800 meter finals, twice around the track. I like to watch this when I think that there's no use trying even when it's a lost cause. But there is still triumph in doing your best, as displayed here.

Pay attention to the goofy guy wearing the golf cap, who is clearly overmatched, yet he still gives it his all despite being blown away by the rest of the pack. It's inspirational to watch how hard he tries in the face of adversity. Go ahead and watch it now...

If you haven't watched it yet, you won't appreciate the rest. You almost have to watch this two times to fully digest it. The second time you watch it, notice how far the winner had to come from behind.

It was so close, many of the announcers didn't know who won at first with the naked eye. Arzhanov from the Ukraine — who had refused to lose an 800m final anywhere for four years — made his move on the backstretch, jumping right from sixth to first. He waited back, and then he came on strong as the favorite. And yet that wasn't the end of the story. Someone else had other ideas.

This fable about slow and steady winning the race really does happen. You don't need to be on top of things right away. Just pace yourself and keep plugging away. If it looks like you can't do it and you're overwhelmed, remember Dave Wottle — mythic yet real-life figure. If you have a firm game plan in place, just stick to it and trust that it will work out.

I like how Wottle was still in last place over halfway through the race. In the first lap, all the other runners were panicking to stay up with the pack, but he didn't bite. Just because everyone else felt the need to jump out to a quick start didn't mean he had to. He was playing ultimate non-conformist, and it paid off. He knew his own abilities, stayed within them, and then turned it on at the right moments. Each of his four 200m splits were timed at 26 seconds. He ran his race.

The first time he stepped it up was in the second lap at the end of the first turn, where he passes two runners and positions himself on the outside. Then he stays back through the last turn, and as soon as they hit the straightaway, he puts on the turbo chargers.

Wottle was in last place for the first 1:07 (63%) of the race. Then he was in sixth place until the 1:28 mark. Let's repeat this: With only 17 seconds left in the race, he was still in 6th place! There were five runners still ahead of him.

Then, with 7 seconds left in the race, he was still in 4th place... No problem, right?

It's also interesting to note that Wottle had suffered tendinitis in his knees earlier that year, and had missed training time as a result.

Five different runners were in the lead during that race, and Wottle was in front for only about the last two feet, which is the only part that matters. He won the race by .03 of a second.

The U.S. announcers, Jim McKay and Marty Liquori, gave a rather optimistic account, and made it sound during the race like it was going to be somewhat easier than it was for Wottle. They were giving periodic updates of his status to put the race from his perspective, all the while the other runners were running their own races, and some of them were looking good as well. Even though McKay was playing up Wottle, Wottle wasn't the favorite, and had no Olympic experience. And note that McKay was still surprised when Wottle came on to pass the last two runners.

Now let's imagine ourselves in the race as Dave Wottle, and the announcers are our conscience, or spiritual self, encouraging us and reminding us of our capabilities ("if Dave could just pull up here and get on the outside..."). As we're running our lives, those voices are guiding us to continue to strive, to not give up, to stay within ourselves, whispering in our ear, motivating us ("I think Dave's in great position at this point..."), prodding us, and then even announcing to the world what we just might have inside us ("stand by for the kick of Dave Wottle..."). They're essentially saying, "Keep an eye on this one... he's going places."

If you watch the version (at bottom) with a British announcer, you'll hear a more even-handed account: "and right in the back is Dave Wottle, who got left way, way behind..." (0:37) Wottle isn't even mentioned again until the 1:18 mark, entering the final turn.

There are many voices we can listen to, representing our hopes all the way to our doubts. It's just a matter of who we believe, regardless of which is more realistic.

The other moral of the story is that it pays to wear a cap if you're going to be in a photo-finish race, because that bill gives you an extra four inches, which could come in quite handy in such situations.

Alternate British version, with the audio better and the video worse:
(if you can sync the two videos and turn the audio down on the other, you'll have the best of both worlds)


Anonymous said...

Watched that twice. It was also interesting to see how technology has changed in covering track and field.

Unknown said...

Thanks Rusty for the video and your thoughts! They are timely not only throughout life but especially as we come upon a new year and we are setting new goals for ourselves.

Sara said...

I love this!! For the message it gives and for the flashback to sports back then. It really makes you wonder why so much has changed over the years. A race is a'd think it wouldn't matter what year it was. But watching that race today displays a very different picture.

As for message here...I feel this concept really applies to me right now for financial planning. I have to look long down the road to acheive my goals and forget or forgo the immediate wants.

Anonymous said...

That was awesome. Very inspiring. I love that he wore a golf cap, too, and it stayed on!

Rusty Southwick said...

Oh, yeah... The fact that he was creating his own fashion with the golf cap spoke volumes. And never mind that it would cause extra wind drag, he was going to do it his way, and danged if he didn't.

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