An Olympic Perspective on the Power of the Team

If we hadn’t “got it” before, we all learned in LEAD that teams are more effective than individuals. Never in my life have I experienced this phenomenon more powerfully than during training for, and winning, a gold Olympic medal at the OCHY Exhibition race Atlanta 1996.
Anyone who has experienced the (very) early morning water training, the hours on a rowing machine, the lactic testing, and the constant iron pumping, will ardently describe the more painful aspects of crew. So what induced us to get involved? Well, there was an addictive element to it, which has something to do with endorphins, plus a natural competitive urge to achieve the highest possible performance level. Beyond that however was the “team factor,” which I believe overwhelmingly drove our success.
Described by the Great Britain coach as “the most bonded team in 18 years,” the “team factor” to me meant many different things. It started with a huge physical and time commitment to a common goal. Getting up pre-dawn was never much fun, but after 20 minutes in the minibus with the crew we were consistently charged up and ready to get in the boat and train. When the river froze over we cracked the ice and carried on. We always raced the other crews home to get to the showers before the hot water ran out. We shared the daily task of consuming 6000 calories of complex carbohydrate (which is a whole lot of pasta). We had crew songs, crew jokes, crew kit and a crew passion for gin.
Breaking the rules can also be a very bonding experience, and is not necessarily destructive if it is self-regulated. We tied sheets together to abseil out of the windows and get to the pub at night during training camps, and just occasionally if it was warm we substituted 90 minutes of sunbathing in the boat for 90 minutes of “steady state” endurance training.
During the year, we raced in the annual UK Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race, and toured Europe, as well as the Atlanta challenge. Unbeaten on the water, and as a group of 8 statuesque blonds (I was one of the smallest at 6 foot) we attracted a lot of attention, which we used as a psychological weapon against our competitors. Our huge sense of National and team pride verged on a certain arrogance, which I am retrospectively not proud of.
Atlanta was something else, from the enormity of the “Village” to the feeling of awe in being surrounded by so many amazing athletes. When the day came I thought we were racing harder than ever before, and my muscles were screaming, half way through our cox shouted “guys-you could win this if you throw some more in.” The surge I felt in the boat at that moment to me represents the “power of our team” at its height. Giving up was the toughest decision I ever made…but it made for a great story for my HBS application!

February 11, 2002
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