After failing to win a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada became the only country to host multiple games without a winning a gold medal. Realizing a change was necessary, the Canadian Olympic Committee formed the now famous ‘Own the Podium’ program in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The results of this program were amazing. On February 27th 2010, the second last day of the winter Olympics, Canada won its 11th gold medal surpassing USA’s previous record for the most gold medals awarded to any host country during a winter Olympics. The next day, a day etched in many of our memories, Sidney Crosby blew a game-winning goal though the legs of the unstoppable Team US goalie, Ryan Miller, to give Canada its 14th gold medal of the games. Although we finished third in the medal count for the games (behind the US and Germany), Team Canada earned a record-setting 14 gold medals and 26 medals in total, besting the performance of every nation to host a winter games since Salt Lake City in 2002.
So, what was the secret behind ‘Own the Podium?’ Was it the world-class committee of former athletes gathered to inspire this year’s crew? Was it the incredible pressure this very public campaign put on our athletes? Or did we just get lucky? Although some pressure, planning and luck may have played a part in the success, there was something different in the attitude of this team long before the opening ceremonies even began. Our athletes emerged from their dressing rooms with the audacious goal of winning the Winter Olympics. They not only believed this goal, they announced it to the world. It rivaled Babe Ruth’s famous ‘called shot’ in the 1932 World Series – Babe pointed at the centerfield stands and then proceeded to hit a centerfield homerun. It was gutsy, it was different, and it was almost non-Canadian.
If our Olympic athletes can be this audacious, why don’t we naturally lay down the gauntlet in our endeavours? Why is it that startups favour ‘stealth mode’ and months of ‘private beta products’ over taking an ‘Own the Podium’ strategy right from the start? My guess is that it all comes down to a very simple fear of failure. Failing publicly is definitely hard. But staying the course when challenges start to rise is even harder. Early on in the Vancouver Olympics, Canadian reporters dubbed the program the ‘disown the podium’ strategy because of our low medal count. The cold hard truth is that it takes incredible commitment to an audacious goal to achieve something of notable magnitude. As Babe Ruth so famously put it: “Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.”
Our athletes in Vancouver in 2010 were bold, daring and zealous, and that’s exactly what entrepreneurs need to be to build the kinds of companies we all know we’re capable of building. No Canadian will ever forget the feeling of invincibility from Crosby’s overtime goal. My hope is that this feeling will inspire the kind of gutsy, risk-taking and fearless company building that we can all be proud of for years to come.