This month, the Lead365 team will be talking about examples of leadership in sports. Be it actual sports moments, or ones that you’ve seen in movies or TV, we want to share with you the moments on the field, on the court, or in the gym, that make us want to be better leaders. I want to share a moment in sport that sticks with me to this day.
I am an Olympics junkie. My sleep suffers for the three weeks that it dominates the airwaves, I love examining the flags that adorn uniforms and processions, and I cry at the closing ceremonies without fail because I know that I’ll miss the ritual that comes from nightly demonstrations of spirit and excellence.
The first Olympic Games that I very clearly remember was the 1996 Atlanta Games. Growing up in Florida, it was the closest the Olympics had ever been to me. As a bonus, I was in my second year of taking gymnastics, and I could not get enough of watching girls just a few years older than me become famous for things I wanted to do. The Magnificent Seven, they were called- and they were as magnificent on TV as they were in my mind.
In the last night of the women’s team competition, the United States was within points of winning the gold medal, which would be the first for a women’s gymnastics team if they did it. Our final event was vault, and the weight of this achievement’s potential rested on the shoulders of 19 year old Kerri Strug. Her first vault was over in the blink of an eye, and was marred near the end by an always landing and eventual fall. As she stood, she seemed a bit out of sorts but limped back to her starting mark- shaking her ankle the whole way. Believing the gold medal was on the line, Strug successfully hurtled toward the vault horse, sailed over gracefully, and stuck her second landing only to immediately lift her left foot. Tearfully, she looked toward the scoreboard, awaiting the score. 9.712. She had done it. The US Women’s Gymnastics Team had won the gold!
What Strug didn’t know was that the final vault wasn’t needed. She had launched her team onto the gold medal podium with her first vault (which scored 9.162). Another thing Strug didn’t know: the faltering first vault had severely damaged her ankle, and she had walked on a leg with a third degree sprain and lateral tendon damage. But in that moment, she made a sacrifice that is admirable for a leader- she put in the work for her team, stepped up when they needed her, and put aside fear. Now, we all never wish for our leaders to need to perform under that sort of literal strain, but her determination and desire to contribute were admirable. On a team that had more visible leaders (Shannon Miller was the decorated veteran, and Dominique Moceanu the highly visible young rising star) than she, Kerri Strug created her own kind of spotlight and displayed some quiet but undeniable leadership.
Do you have a favorite or most memorable sports moment? What displays of leadership in sport inspire you? Share them with us, and let us know if you’d like to write about it for our blog by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!