This weekend was the Lauberhorn round of the Ski World Cup in Wengen, Switzerland and while the main event was snowed off on Saturday the big news was made by little known Niels Hintermann who won the Combined event on Friday.
Its a story worth telling because it illustrates beautifully the power of focusing on the things that you can control and not wasting energy on the rest.
The Alpine Combined is a two race event. A downhill followed by a slalom with the second race having the top 30 starting in reverse order i.e. the slow downhillers (who tend to be the faster slalomers) going first and setting a time for the faster downhillers to chase. It's fun as the pressure mounts and the fast downhill guys who are not great through the slalom gates progressively crack under pressure.
Its Friday morning, the snow is falling and the organisers decide to run the slalom first and hope for better Downhill conditions later. Niels Hintermann has start number 51. This is like being told 'you are here to make up the numbers - be grateful'. With 50 skiers already down the course the corners are a bit of a mess and the snow is still falling with a nasty wind to boot. Oh yes, and Hintermann is a 21 year old downhill guy - from the flat part of Switzerland. Not an auspicious start. He does a final mental run through of the course, takes in the atmosphere and launches himself down the slalom course. 50 seconds later and he has navigated all the gates as well as he can and his reward is 23rd place in the slalom. Nothing earth shattering but he is still in the race.
Afternoon and the conditions have improved and the downhill is on. Its not the full 2min 30 of Lauberhorn hell that makes up the full downhill but it is enough to sort the men from the boys in the combined. The first seven skiers make their way down the course. A mix of slalom guys, who had a bad first run and their day gets even worse on the jumps and turns, and downhillers who qualified through the slalom and start posting some decent target times. Hintermann stands in the start gate. This is what he has dreamed of since being a kid. He is Swiss and this is the Lauberhorn. He knows what it takes. He launches himself out of the gate and striking the perfect balance between control and attack he aces the course. As soon as he crosses the line he knows that he has skied as well as he can. He doesn't need any scoreboard to tell him that. He punches the air in delight, his face paints a picture of deep satisfaction. Looking up at the scoreboard it tells him that for now he is the fastest, top dog, No1. The Swiss fans go mad. His 5 mins of fame before some of the remaining 22 skiers beat his time and push him off the podium.
Hintermann takes his place at the finish line in the spot reserved for the current leader, the TV cameras on his face after every competitor completes his run. The next skiers come down and can't beat his time. Light snow starts to fall and he is guaranteed a top 20 finish, his best ever.
Then more snow falls, this is terrible for racers as it slows the skis. Some of the skiers are beaten before they start, their negative body language in the start house betraying that they have thrown in the towel. More racers fail to beat Hintermann's time and before he knows it he is guaranteed a top 10 and then a podium. Hintermann is in the moment, just enjoying the drama of every attempt to beat his leading time. As the last racer starts the penny start to drop. And the impossible happens. The guy with start number 51, who is there to make up the numbers and 'gain experience', wins on the Lauberhorn.
What's the take out?
Hintermann focused on two things. His slalom run and his downhill run. He didn't worry about what the organisers thought about him (his start number), his competitors, the weather, doing enough to score a point/secure some sponsorship. He just did his stuff - skied as best he could, twice. Meanwhile some of his competitors were complaining about the weather, making stupid mistakes and taking their foot off the gas. Yes he got lucky with when the snow fell but he put himself in a perfect position to take advantage of the situation.
Whether it is in sport or business the take out is clear. Focus on the things that are in your control and execute your skills to your absolute best. Everything else is out of your control so for sure one day you will get lucky - make sure that you do you are in position to make the most of it.
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