3 Business Lessons From Olympic Gold Medalist Park Sangyoung’s Fencing Bout


The Rio 2016 Olympics is turning out to be one of the most memorable sporting events in recent history. With legendary upsets and spectacular exhibitions of athleticism, viewers and sports enthusiasts alike can’t seem to get enough of the suspense, drama, and intrigue.

As I’ve watched with rapt attention over the past few days, I could not help but notice that there are many parallels between the competitive environment of the Olympics and the world of business.

In fact, I believe there are many lessons we can draw from the Rio Olympics, but one story, in particular, seems to have captured the imagination of viewers all over the world.

It’s the story of South Korea’s Park Sangyoung’s epic fencing victory against Hungary’s five-time Olympian Imre Géza in the men’s individual épée gold medal bout.

Park, a 20-year-old first-time Olympian rallied from a 4 point deficit to snatch the gold medal from the hands of the veteran Olympian, Atlanta 1996 bronze & Athens 2004 silver medalist Géza.

By all accounts, it was a classic battle of Experience vs. Youth, Maturity vs. Brashness, and David vs. Goliath. To say Mr. Park’s victory was anything short of dramatic would be an understatement.

Upon analyzing and reflecting on the bout, I observed that three distinct lessons are directly applicable to small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs.

1) Clarity

Any new business or startup trying to go into a particular market must have absolute clarity of their mission. Mr. Park from all indications and reports was clearly the underdog in the tournament. He did not participate in many of the 2015 qualifying matches due to injury, and by all accounts should have been knocked out in the semi-final game by the more experienced fencer from Switzerland.

However, Park showed a distinct clarity of mind and vision.
In his words “It was very hard for me to come back from my injury. I kept thinking about the Olympics and taking part in it. That’s what got me back on track,”.

As a startup or small business, you need to have clarity of your end goal and take steps to achieve them one point at a time. Sometimes, we’re tempted to try every technique and strategy simultaneously. This approach indicates a lack of focus and wastes our time, energy and limited resources. It’s usually best to have our attention focused on a particular outcome and relentlessly work to achieving it before moving on to the next thing.

2. Creativity — While standing on the precipice of defeat, Park unleashed a stunning barrage of creative offensive maneuvers to overcome the nearly insurmountable point deficit, and clinch victory within a matter of seconds.

Park’s victory shows that we can all achieve improbable victory even in our darkest moments if we draw on our full creative potentials. Whether it’s a cash flow or funding problem, a supplier setback or even a lack of experience, nothing guarantees success more than creativity.

The inconsolable Imre noted after his defeat that “I was the winner up until eight-and-a-half minutes into the bout and in the last twenty seconds he beat me,” “I understand why I lost, but I’m very sad.”

Sadly, while the sting of defeat hurts, what hurts, even more, is watching your moment of opportunity slip away. Creativity is one of the secret weapons in your arsenal that can be counted on to turn the tide in your favor when the chips are down, and your back is to the wall.

3. Hunger — In any competitive event, success is achieved by those who are hungry for it. You can’t let up or relax for one instant.

Though he was one touch away from the Olympic gold, Imre missed his opportunity because he relented in the final minutes of the bout.

As a young startup or small business, you already have the advantage of being hungry. You’re not encumbered by the trappings of success or the ephemeral appearance of achievement which breeds complacency.

Daymond John, the famous Shark Tank investor, founder of the iconic FUBU brand and best-selling author of “The Power Of Broke” stated that competitors with seemly disadvantaged backgrounds have a stronger competitive advantage, because what they lack in obvious resources is overcompensated for with incredible amounts of tenacity, creativity, and chutzpah.

Inasmuch as both athletes will be celebrated for their excellent performance and sportsmanship for years to come, we as business owners should learn from them and apply the lessons to build successful businesses in our respective markets.

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