Edwin Moses: "I was the least likely person to become an Olympic Champion"

Sporting hero shares insights with IESE Alumni in London

23/03/2012 Worldwide

“There are many ways of looking at legends” said Edwin Moses, Olympic gold medalist and world record breaking athlete. “But although my mother said I was born ready to run, between being born and later having the street I was born on named after me, I had to do a lot of hard work”.

The story of the hard work that made Edwin Moses an unparalleled sporting hero is what he shared with IESE Alumni in London on March 22. As London is buzzing with the count-down to the 2012 Olympics, Moses’ story of discipline and passion serves as inspiration to anyone – either in sport or in business – hoping to achieve greatness. The key, he said, is passion: “There was nothing on my track and field résumé that said I had a chance. The one thing I had was the passion.”

The similarities between sports and business are striking: both are highly competitive, both are tests of endurance, discipline, attitude, performance, and goals. IESE has its own Center for Sport Business Management, with various professors dedicated to studying this phenomenon. If business can learn from sport, then there is no career more remarkable than that of the track star Edwin Moses.

Before his sporting success, Moses earned a scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta, a university that did not have its own track. Moses, who did not even have decent training shoes, used to train on public facilities around town. In 1976, he qualified for three Olympic events and went on to win the gold medal in the 400m hurdles, and set a new world record with his time. By 1987, Moses had won 122 consecutive races, set the world record three times over and won his second Olympic gold medal. In 1994, he earned an MBA from Pepperdine University.

During an era when many businesses are facing tough hurdles to overcome, Moses’ message was timely. In order to achieve, he said, you have to struggle: “Every day, you have to push yourself against the wall. Every single day.” He reflected on how he would have tears in his eyes as he turned up to the track for practice, knowing what he would have to go through each time. He talked of the protective instinct that the body has, to give up and not go through such tough training. But Moses would push through those barriers each time, to reach what he calls the “twilight zone.”

What is the key to overcoming those barriers? Keeping the goals in sight. Moses says his advantage over other athletes was that he was not afraid to feel the pain on a day to day basis. To him, it was reasonable, as he knew what the outcome would be: “During my whole career I felt like a gladiator. You don’t have a sword, but you go out with the same mentality.”

Having retired from the track, Moses continues to inspire with his work for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. This organization uses sport as a tool for social change, and tackles problems such as HIV/AIDS, childhood obesity and youth violence across six continents.

At the event, Chris Daniels, President of the U.K. chapter of the IESE Alumni Association, explained what it means to be an Olympic sponsor. Daniels is also in charge of Lloyds bank’s sponsorship of the Games - one of the main sponsors of London 2012.

Both Daniels and Moses agreed that London is gearing up to host a fantastic Olympics in June 2012.

This IESE Alumni Association event took place at BlackRock, EC2N 2DL, London, on March 22. IESE Prof. Antonio Dávila gave the introduction, followed by presentations from Daniels and Moses. IESE would like to thank BlackRock for their collaboration in this special event.