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How to Win

The Tiniest Edge


“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” — Ken Blanchard

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”

Is the same thing true of winners? Are they fundamentally different from others?

The answer is yes! Winners think and act differently: When they fail, they don’t quit or get frustrated. They analyze their performance and say, “What can I do differently?”

The Luge World Championships took place this weekend at Lake Placid, N.Y., an event where the difference between the gold and silver was .213 seconds. That’s how much separated Felix Loch of Germany and Armin Zoggeler of Italy.

What accounts for such tiny differences?

Thomas Schwab, head of the German luge and bobsled federation, smiled and pointed to his head.

“The brain,” he said. “It’s very easy to lose a thousandth of a second. It’s going quick. You make one mistake and you have a chance to lose a lot of time. You must do the rest of your run and don’t think about this problem.”

In other words, let go of mistakes.

What else goes into being the best in the world?

“You do a lot of changes.” By that, he’s not referring to changes in his program. He’s referring to daily race-by-race adjustments. Tiny ones. Some people become frustrated when they lose. Champions become fascinated.

A typical taining day goes like this:

An early training run. Then an analysis and adjustments. Then lunch. Then a training run. And more analysis and more adjustments.

Adjustments require a certain kind of humility. It’s a way of saying, “What I did can use improvement.”

Bengt Walden, the top American finisher in the men’s division, picked up on the theme of adjustments. He said the ability to analyze your last result, whether it’s good or bad, can actually build your confidence.

“You analyze your performance and make adjustments and say, ‘If I do this then this is what can be.’”

And so, like other lugers, Walden speaks of ‘finding time.’ Every time you go down the track, you can look back and point to a place where you lost a thousandth of a second. He calls the effort to find those tiny slivers of time ‘addictive.”

Gordie Sheer, a three-time Olympian and winner of a silver medal, now works for the United States Luge Association. He explains the sport this way: “You can’t accelerate. You can only find places where you lost time.”

How about a sport where fractions of a second can make all the difference?

“It’s the environment in which you operate,” said Sheer. “Everybody wins, loses or ties by a fraction of a second. You can’t get upset about it. Trying to find one-tenth of a second can seem like a monumental task at times.”

Yet people dedicate their lives to it.

“They are luge junkies,” said Schwab. “(Passion) is a very important part.”


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