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“Winning Is a Must”

The True Spirit of Sportsmanship

Olympic Champion Usain Bolt says it with the dignified air that you’d expect from someone with eight Olympic gold medals,

“Progressive mind state. That’s my residency. Winning is a must.”

But I don’t think you can argue that Charlie Sheen said it better. Way better.

Olympic Dreams

I was asked by folks within our company to write an article about the Olympic Games. What it’s like to work with athletes that have committed their entire lives to getting to the Olympics. The endless training hours and tales of battling injuries as they strive to represent their country. How being there is an honor, and that winning is akin to glorified icing on an already extravagant cake.

But this isn’t the case. In my experience, it’s far from the truth.

And while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has altered the dynamics of these Olympic Games with spectator restrictions, testing protocols, and isolation hubs, one thing remains the same: winning.

In Beijing, some 2900 athletes will be competing in 109 different events. Sure, some of these athletes are happy to stroll into the opening and closing ceremonies, wide-eyed, robotically waving flags and taking selfies.

But for the majority of athletes, it’s about winning and nothing else. When it comes to crunch time, few athletes are counting their “likes” on Instagram or thinking about the stories they will tell their grandchildren one day.

Winning is embedded into the psyche of athletes from across the globe, and the Olympic Games is where it matters most. There are no contract negotiations while deciding what team to play for, or seven-figure signing bonuses.

Ultimately, it boils down to bringing home the gold. And with such a singular focus, it becomes inevitable that the narrative occasionally — or not-so-occasionally (hence the team Russian Olympic Committee, not Russia) — involves cheating.


Cheating is not new.

A cup was discovered from 490 B.C.E. in ancient Greece where you can see the wrestler on the right illegally trying to gouge the eyes out of his opponent, while the referee is ready to strike the cheater.

In fact, it was so commonplace that punishment for cheating involved public flogging and heavy fines. A large part of me feels that these measures should be brought back. The other part of me, though, is glad that cheating is no longer punished so severely so we can continue to witness the lengths athletes will go to bring home the gold.

Here are three of my favorites:

  1. 1936 Berlin: German athlete Dora Ratjen finished fourth in the women’s high jump. She then went on to set a world record in 1938 before dropping a bombshell — Ratjen was a man. He claimed that the Nazis ordered him to pose as a woman for the “glory of Germany.” When asked about his experience of living his life as a woman, he said, “It was most dull.”
  2. Olympic Swimming: Virtually overnight, East Germany became a powerhouse in the pool during the 1970s-1980s. Certain physical characteristics of the athletes raised suspicion of rampant steroid use. When a rival coach commented on the deep voices of many of the female swimmers, an East German coach replied, “We came here to swim, not sing.”
  3. 1904 St. Louis: American runner Fred Lorz outraced the competition to win the coveted marathon. One problem, though: Lorz drove 10 miles of the route in his car after cramping up early in the race. Unfortunately, the jig was up, and Lorz was quickly exposed as a cheat. In a funny twist, the actual winner — Thomas Hicks — was administered a heavy dose of potentially lethal rat poison (strychnine) along with a shot of brandy during the race. But both were well within the rules in 1904.

Olympians pledge to celebrate “the true spirit of sportsmanship” while listening to bureaucratic officials talk about respect and fair play.

I’m pretty sure most of them adhere to these fundamental principles while still pushing the envelope as best, and far as they can. Some, though, will push beyond those borders and do anything and everything to win. 100 plus years ago, that may have been a ride in a car, whereas nowadays that may be genetic engineering and brain implants.

Maybe this is precisely what Usain Bolt meant when he said,

“Progressive mind state. That’s my residency. Winning is a must.”




Nurosene was built to help implement healthy habits to strengthen your mind, body and brain.

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Daniel Gallucci

Daniel Gallucci

Co-founder I CIO @Nurosene. Radically Fundamental strategies intersecting human health & performance and technologies . Ice cream maker.

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