Brad Feld

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Lessons From Phelps and Bolt

Aug 20, 2008

Jason and I were talking about some of the running events in the Olympics as we walked in to the office together this morning.  After chatting about the marathon, he asked if I’d seen the Bolt 100 meter final.  I did – and it was an amazing performance – but I was perplexed why Bolt coasted the last 20 meters and "only" did 9.69 when he most likely could have broken 9.60.  Now – 9.69 is a world record, but 9.60 (or even the symbolic 9.59) would be mindblowing.

Jason suggested that it might be marketing.  Whoever is "advising" Bolt said "just win and break the world record by a little.  Then the endorsements will flow.  Then you can keep breaking the world record and steadily upping the stakes."  Cynical, but it rang true.

This just in – Bolt won the 200 meter and set a world record – 19.30.  This time he ran hard through the finish.

Now – I think both Bolt and Phelps are incredible athletes.  Amazing.  Mindblowing.  But I was really baffled to see Bolt pull up short.  It made no sense to me, especially when compared to the incredible effort by Phelps across all of his races. 

This made me think of sales people or teams that beat their number in a quarter and then bank something for the next quarter.  I’ve never ever liked this practice, especially in private companies.  I much prefer the Phelps approach – where you give it your all through the very end and bring in as much as you can, take a deep breath, and start all over again – than the Bolt approach (at least in the 100) of when you know you have it nailed, you coast to the finish.