Start Line Observations

Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis/Ola Vista Photography

Having lunch with a fellow Olympian is especially entertaining during the Rio Olympic Games. If you want to witness animated conversations from the cheap seats thousands of miles from Rio… it gets no better. I pity the others in the restaurant as we break down the Olympic action of the past few weeks. We dive into the small details not normally noticed by the television broadcasters and fans in the stands.

The first stroke. The first step. The first reflex that propels your body into action as you realize your Olympic Games quest.

This split-second moment embodies the threshold of opportunity. It’s also the ultimate point of commonality amongst competitors… just before factors of talent, skill, and strategy kick in to space out the racers.

What about the moment on the start line itself? After two weeks of observing the start line routines of the world’s best athletes, there is NOT as much commonality as one might think.

The pre-start routines ranged from short and heavy breaths, chest thumping, and jerky-quick body motions to peaceful and meditative states of calm. The gap between those who own this moment and those who are owned by it is significant.

The difference? Practice.

One would assume that every participant at the Olympic Games has practiced. Certainly within their sport, they have practiced a lot.

But have they practiced the subtle moments of starting every day?

The practice of breathing.

The practice of self-awareness.

The practice of presence.

The practice of gratitude.

The practice of letting go.

These start line elements may not determine if a medal will be won. But, they are the difference between partial engagement and full engagement.

For the rest of us, that’s the rub. In the office, on a stage, behind a keyboard, or in front of a camera, your best work reflects not just what you practice, but how and why you practice.

Full engagement at your moment of truth is a function of practicing full engagement.

Let go of the finish line. Own the start line. Every day.


As America’s first ever Olympic Gold Medalist in Whitewater Canoe Slalom, Joe promotes strategies and shares stories for living and performing at your best, doing the work that matters and engaging with purpose. His platforms include performance coaching and consulting, professional speaking, broadcasting and his weekly newsletter, “Sunday Morning Joe.”