The Fallacy of Limits
If nothing else, these Olympics were yet another reminder that records are meant to be broken. That the limits these records seem to impose do not define the boundaries of performance. Rather, they invite and call forth the kind of extraordinary effort that proves there is almost no limit to what we can do.
Despite the significant decline in TV viewership of this year’s Olympics, there is something undeniably captivating about the spectacle of over 200 nations and more than 10,000 athletes competing together in 339 total events. More than the games themselves, it is the stories of the Tokyo Olympics that will continue to occupy our attention for the days and weeks to come. Perhaps the most remarkable of them will be the fact that twenty new world records were set in a wide range of events. In the women’s 400-meter hurdles, Sydney McLaughlin set a new world record, and her teammate Dalilah Muhammad ran the second-best time in history in the same race. The same happened with Karsten Warholm of Norway and Rai Benjamin of the United States in the men’s 400-meter hurdles contest. Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela shattered a 26-year world record in the women’s triple jump event, earning the first gold medal ever for her country. And Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia single-handedly broke three world records in men’s weightlifting.
If nothing else, these Olympics were yet another reminder that records are meant to be broken. That the limits these records seem to impose do not define the boundaries of performance. Rather, they invite and call forth the kind of extraordinary effort that proves there is almost no limit to what we can do. This belief – that there are no limits – is the defining mindset of the Olympian. No one puts it better than Eliud Kipchoge, the 36-year-old Kenyan runner who won his second consecutive gold medal in the men’s marathon. “I don’t believe in limits,” Kipchoge tells us. And his performance reflects the certainty of that belief. In 2019, Kipchoge broke what seemed at the time to be an unbreakable barrier – a sub-two-hour marathon time – albeit in unofficial conditions.
If we wonder why we are fixated on men and women diving, swimming, hitting, running, throwing, riding, and whatever other physical activities these athletes dedicate their lives to, it is that their commitment and accomplishments serve to remind us of the constraining nature of limiting beliefs and the liberating power of unlimited thinking. This is the reason why we continue to celebrate Roger Bannister’s historic breaking of the 4-minute mile barrier in 1954, a record that almost everyone at the time thought was out of reach. Bannister’s feat not only propelled a slew of runners to see and achieve greater possibility – two different runners broke the barrier the very next year, and, as of today, over 1,400 runners have run the mile in under four minutes – it lifted an entire nation out of a collective malaise following the incredible hardship of World War II and its aftermath.
While there have been criticisms of these games, some of them fair, I prefer to look back on them with gratitude. Thankful for each of the amazing athletes. Their commitment to their craft and their belief that records are meant to be broken leave me inspired to do the same. I hope the same is true for each of you.
Watch this three-minute video to see Kipchoge articulate this philosophy around limits.
It’s hard to believe that Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, is leaving Barcelona, the club he has called home since the age of thirteen. Here is a seven-minute highlight tribute to Messi that could easily have been seven hours.
If you want to understand American society today, you would be hard-pressed to do better than read David Brooks’ recent article in The Atlantic. It’s absolutely phenomenal.