Apolo Ohno: Process Versus Prize [The Knowledge Project Ep. #90]

8x Olympic medalist and short-track speed skating legend, Apolo Ohno chats about his origin story, recovering from multiple failures, mental training, confidence and leaving it all of the ice.

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Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

I actually learned how to speed skate from my father driving me from Seattle to Vancouver and to Burnaby and to Calgary, by the way, which is a very long drive. That’s really how I learned. I learned by watching and mimicking and copying what I saw, and then applying that in a way that I felt like was natural to my body.

I’ve had my bouts with self-sabotage almost my entire career as an athlete, and even I think post-career as a human. These are probably deeper psychological kind of traits and micro traumas that I think we all deal with on a day-to-day basis as we grow as humans, and the way that they expose themselves in my life as an Olympic athlete was I started to thrive and desire being at rock bottom and then coming back from that.

It was at that moment that I decided to take the decision into my own hands and I watched my father drive away after dropping me off at SeaTac Airport. I take my bags, I walk into the SeaTac Airport, I walk back out, I go to the payphone, I call a friend, inform my friend that I am longer going to go to New York for this training program, and instead I’m going to hang out at friends houses from house to house, week to week until I figured this thing out.

I then started to lose my fun kind of happy, go lucky attitude towards the sport. I had not yet applied or understood the power of the mind and its focal properties in association with streamlining something to generate massive output.

I think your environment is not a guarantee of who you are and your outcome.

I went all in to where I cared about nothing. I really truly cared about nothing except for what I was doing at that moment, which is very powerful. It’s also not very balanced, but that’s the approach that I took.

That was the moment that I said, “I’m going to listen to this human and see what he has to offer.” That began my process into the world of meditation, visualization and self-talk and the world of sports psychology. It was from that moment that not only my career changed, but I would say that my life had really changed.

I derived confidence from my training immensely and my preparation. That’s what gave me a lot of confidence and satisfaction because in the world of short track speed skating, just because you’re the best or the most well-prepared doesn’t mean you’re going to win.

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