Our fascination with the Olympics goes beyond the near-perfect performances of the athletes. It also includes their stories. We watch and experience the trials and triumphs of people who fail, who get up and who triumph once again. Possibly through watching how Olympians perform under pressure, we can learn how to perform under pressure as well.
Two examples stand out in my mind from this week, in women's gymnastics and men's swimming.
In gymnastics, Jordyn Wieber, who had been left in tears earlier this week when she did not make the cut for the individual all-around competition, went on to lead Team USA to a gold medal. She and teammates Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross were dubbed the Fab Five prior to the competition. They have now renamed themselves as the Fierce Five.
"There have been Fab Fives in the past, but I like Fierce Five," said Maroney after they secured their gold team medal, "because we are definitely the fiercest team out there."
Wieber, who won the 2011 World Championships, finished fourth overall in the individual qualification round Sunday, but behind her teammates Raisman and Douglas. The individual all-around rules are set so that only the top two qualifiers from each country can advance to the finals.
This left the 2011 World Champion Wieber out of the individual final competition. After shedding a few tears on Sunday, she rebounded Tuesday to lead Team USA to a gold medal.
At the team competition, Wieber led off on the vault, the first apparatus for Team USA, followed by Douglas and Maroney, who stuck her dismount to earn a near perfect 16.233. One after the other, Team USA's members earned the scores they needed to win.
Their consistency contrasted sharply with that of the Russian team, whose members made error after error through their rotations.
That day, men swimmers were living through their own saga. Michael Phelps turned in a disappointing individual performance, but then focused on a team performance.
Phelps lost his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly. South African Chad le Clos beat him by .05 seconds.
It was ironic. It was the lack of reach in the end that did Phelps in.
In 2008, Phelps had beaten Serbia's Milorad Cavic by one-hundredth of a second by lunging on the final stroke of the 100 butterfly.
This year was different.
"I glided into the wall, that's a decision I made, and I'm not going to make excuses. Sometimes in practice I have been lazy at the wall, and I made that decision and I'm ok with it," said Phelps. "Chad is a very hungry kid, and he got his hand on the wall first. It was a little frustrating, but I had to put it behind me. I didn't want to let (the relay) team down."
Le Clos, who had long watched Phelps and who had studied the 2008 finish, was thrilled and surprised with his win.
"It's been a dream of mine ever since I was a little boy. I just wanted to race Phelps in the final, and I've beaten him. I have beaten the greatest swimmer of all time. I can't believe it," said le Clos. "Phelps is my hero, and I love the guy. To beat him, I can't believe it. You don't understand what this means to me. This is the greatest moment of my life."
For Phelps, redemption came in the form of the 4x200 free-style event. He served as the anchor of the U.S. team, which won the gold medal. This gave him his 15th career gold and 19th medal overall.
Phelps is now the athlete with the most medals in Olympic history.
Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who earned 18 medals from 1956 to 1964, had held the record for 48 years.
While neither Olympic athlete reached their full potential in their individual events, they both helped their Team USA to win the gold.
May their stories of individual failings, followed by superior team performance, inspire us today.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.