Ajay Kaul

The Olympics Spirit – grit, courage and camaraderie – inspiring moments in Olympics history

In leadership, sports on August 9, 2016 at 12:40 AM

As the Rio Olympics get off to a flying start, here is a look at some inspiring moments through time, that helped define, the spirit of the Olympics:

2016 (Rio) – the first ever Refugees Olympics Team: The story of the plight of refugees came center stage at the Rio Olympics when 10 athletes marched into the Opening Ceremony with the Olympics Flag instead of a National Flag. The 10 athletes escaped from countries like Syria, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Some fled war and kidnappings, while others fled being made child soldiers. And none of them were able to find a country to call ‘home’ in time for the Olympics

The refugee team members were chosen from a short list of 43 athletes who were identified at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Africa, as well as from shelters in Europe.

The IOC stressed: “There were no shortcuts. Each Refugee Olympic Team member earned the position, and got the qualifying times needed.”



2000 (Sydney) – Korean Unification Flag: The Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony will be remembered for the only show of unification ever between North and South Korea. Rather than carry their individual country flags, the North and South Korean teams walked together, wearing the same uniform and holding a blue flag of Korea


Park Chong Chul, a male judo coach from North Korea, and Chung Un Soon, a female basketball player from the South, led the joint delegation–together grasping a single blue-on-white flag depicting the Korean peninsula, the “flag of unification.”

Watch: Koreans receive a standing ovation at the Sydney opening ceremony.

1992 (Barcelona) – the most memorable 400m in Olympic history: Derek Redmond, the famed British runner was all set to win his semi-final heat to get a berth in the 400m final when he felt a pop in his right hamstring, just 175m from the finish line. Derek fell on the track in deep pain.

But he got back on his feet, waved off medical personnel and ambled towards the finish line

His father, Jim, watching from the stands, ran towards the track, evading security. Derek leaned on his father’s shoulder and finished the race with tears streaming down his face.


The moment was memorialized in a Visa commercial in 2008 narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. Freeman ended the commercial with, “He and his father finished dead last, but he and his father finished.”

1988 (Seoul) – Saving a fallen competitor: Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was sailing at the silver medal spot when he spotted the Singapore team’s capsized boat amidst dangerous winds.

The boat’s injured crew members, Shaw Her Siew and Joseph Chan, were in open water, Chan having been thrown nearly 20 meters from his craft and Siew clinging to the hull.

Lawrence immediately abandoned the race to save the two injured sailors. Lawrence rescued the two first and then handed them off to a rescue crew. He then resumed the race and finished 21st in a field of 32


At the award ceremony, the International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Saramanch awarded Lemieux the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for his heroic act, saying, “By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice, and courage you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal.”

1960 (Rome) – Barefoot to gold: Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner stole the show by running the marathon barefoot and winning the gold! By doing so, he also became the first East African to win a medal at the Olympics!

Abebe could not find a pair of shoes that fitted him since he was a last minute inclusion to the Ethiopian Olympics team. So he decided to run the way he had trained – barefoot.

After the race, when Abebe was asked why he had run barefoot, he replied, “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”


Abebe struck gold again in Tokyo four years later – this time in shoes!

1936 (Berlin) – the Jesse Owens –Luz Long camaraderie: Adolph Hitler planned to showcase Aryan superiority at the 1936 Berlin games. His plans were thoroughly debunked by African-American Jesse Owens who won 4 gold medals.

The Olympic spirit was reflected by the German crowd itself which cheered Owens’ accomplishments and sought his autograph in the streets.

However, most remarkable was the congratulatory hug Jesse Owens received from German competitor Luz Long after his gold medal effort in the Long Jump. Long had earlier advised Owens to take his start for the long jump a little early, so he could avoid disqualification. Owens was very overcome at the gesture and remarked later – “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”

What moment in the list did you find most inspiring? Do share!



BREXIT – a consequence of self-promoting leaders and the global economy?

In Economy, Politics on June 27, 2016 at 4:01 AM


A nation’s destiny was decided by a 3% vote differential on June 23rd – really??

The first time the British held a referendum on joining the European Union, was in 1975 and it received an approval by 67% of the vote – a solid yes!

A 2/3rd majority is often considered mandatory for key votes in democratic Houses across the globe. One would think a vote of this kind would have mandated the same. But it came across as a hurried exercise with each party’s leadership interested in their own future than the future of the nation as a whole.

It started as a 3-way clash of opinion about the EU along party lines –

  • the UKIP led by Nigel Farage, which aggressively campaigned against the EU
  • the Conservative Party itself which suffered from serious infighting over the topic of EU membership
  • the Labor Party under Jeremy Corbyn – they supported an EU membership, but could not come together on a common platform to campaign with the Conservative PM Cameron

But as the vote drew closer, it evolved into a personal clash between 3 personalities:


  • David Cameron, the British PM – who supported “Remain”
  • Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader – who also supported remain, but refused to share the campaign platform with rival David Cameron. A clear case of self before Party or Country
  • Boris Johnson – ex-Mayor of London and part of the Conservative Party – termed David Cameron’s biggest betrayal. He campaigned extensively for Brexit.

In the case of David Cameron – he opened the Brexit can of worms to reduce infighting within the Conservative party, so he could be the unanimous nominee for the PM’s job. He promised that if elected, he would hold an in-or-out referendum on continued British membership in the bloc. It was a bold assertion, but had not been thought through at all.

Here both Cameron and the British voter are at fault. Cameron, for floating an idea without thinking through the ramifications and the implementation details. And the voter for not pressing Cameron on the details.

Jeremy Corbyn is the biggest case of self before anything else. As a leader, he did not represent his party line of thinking to the populace sincerely enough. He would have witnessed an increase in his own stature as a leader, had he crossed party lines for the sake of the country. Here, the Labour Party is at a fault for not correcting this issue in time. Now, when it’s too late, senior party leaders like Lord Falconer have started to resign – too little, too late!


Boris Johnson is another case of self before the country. As recently as January, Johnson indicated his “preference” was to stay in the EU, and he wrote two versions of the article that declared which side he would be backing in the referendum when he declared his hand in February. Many now see his decision to campaign for “leave” as a case of blatant opportunism to propel himself into a leadership status. Like Cameron, his campaign too was slogan based – “Independence Day for Britain” instead of any specifics. He brushed aside any questions for specifics in preference for catchphrases and slogans.

Once again, the fault lies in the voter for just riding along and not pressing Boris Johnson for specifics. It is possible though that a lackluster “Remain” campaign contributed to Boris Johnson’s victory. He led an extremely energetic and lively campaign – he made the voters listen to him.

Now that the vote is over, what really lies ahead for the UK? And who’s going to lead the UK through the separation process that could span 2 years?


The biggest test of the quality of the decision will be the state of the economy. The UK economy was poised to be Europe’s largest economy by 2030, surpassing Germany – it had witnessed a higher rate of growth than the EU. The economy will be hit in the short-term, but will it regain its momentum in the long-term? Many – especially Scotland, Gibraltar and North Ireland are skeptical and are pressing hard for exiting the UK itself. And to add to that, banks are starting to leave London in favor of Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt – so London will no longer be the financial hub of Europe. These two events are enough to put the economy of the new “Little England” in reverse gear.

Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London during the 2012 Summer Olympics – so he has execution experience. But the issues he faces now, are on a completely different scale altogether. Can he deliver? The political circles in UK do not believe so. He is often referred to as “Donald Trump with a Thesaurus.”– that does say a lot

So, is it possible that as ground reality hits, the UK politicians look at reversing the vote? There is already word that the vote could be reversed in the Parliament or through other options

One issue does stand out – local economies are still coming to terms with the global economy – there is more uncertainty and more migrations and that is worrying the workers and residents in the traditional economies. This is giving rise to the Boris Johnsons and Donald Trumps and divisive politics. The voting pattern by age, is testament to this. The younger age group is more assimilated into the global economy than the older generation and hence less skeptical


Lawmakers across the globe need to take a deeper look at the global economy and try to manage it better through legislation – legislation that promotes growth with minimal disruptions locally. There is no silver bullet, but lawmakers need to acknowledge this issue and come together to discuss options and solutions.


Muhammad Ali: an icon, a disruptor and a marketing genius!

In equality, icon, leadership on June 12, 2016 at 5:43 PM



His words were as loud as his actions. He was among the first to connect with audiences across the globe. He was an athlete and a showman at the same time. And it was no surprise that BBC and Sports Illustrated declared him “Sportsman of the Century.” Muhammad Ali – the icon, left us on June 3, 2016 after disrupting status quo and inspiring millions across the globe.

Ali’s initiation into boxing was purely circumstantial – he wanted to beat up the kid who stole his bike. So he trained to box to achieve the goal. That really summed up his personality. If he felt something was not right, he made sure the world knew and then worked hard to fix it. And once he  had fixed it, he once again announced to the world. His sharp wit and a high energy level, gave him an extremely receptive audience across the globe.

Ali was born Cassius Clay in an era of segregation. He supposedly threw his Light Heavyweight Olympics Gold medal (from the Rome Olympics) in the Ohio River after being refused service in a “whites-only” restaurant.

Ali was brilliant at marketing himself – he would predict how he would beat his opponents and in what round. That alone piqued the interest of the audience. However, he amazed his fans when he actually met his predictions.

In 1964 Ali got his first shot at fame when he challenged heavyweight champion Sonny Liston to a championship bout. Despite being a 1-7 underdog, Ali announced himself to the world through confident predictions of victory – I am young, I am fast. He’s too ugly to be a World Champ. The World Champ must be pretty, like me.” Watch: Ali prepares for Sonny Liston

Ali won the championship bout in 6 rounds and proved to the world that his actions were as loud as his words.

Shortly after the win, Ali announced his conversion to Sufi Islam and his new name Muhammad Ali – “I am a free man. Cassius Clay was my slave name. I am no longer a slave.” And there he announced to the world that he was a disruptor, a challenger of status quo.

His challenge to status quo reached a new height when in April 1967, he refused induction into the U.S. Army to fight the Vietnam War. He angered many Americans after claiming, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong. You won’t stand up for me at home and you want me to go out and fight.” Watch:Muhammad Ali Interviews

Subsequently, he was stripped of his WBA title and his license to fight.

In June 1967, a court found him guilty of draft evasion, fined him $10,000, and sentenced him to five years in prison. Although he remained free, pending numerous appeals, he was still barred from fighting.

4 years later – in June 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, reversing the 1967 draft evasion sentence.

However, the best test of his talent, wit and strategic thinking came to the fore in October 1974, when he faced George Foreman in a very well publicized Heavyweight championship fight “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire. His reputation preceded him when he landed in Zaire. Chants of “Ali bomaye” (Ali kill him) could be heard across Zaire in the run up to the fight. Once again, while Foreman was busy preparing for the fight, Ali was connecting with his fans and building up the hype.

In fact, on the night of the fight, George Foreman delayed getting to the ring by 20 minutes – that was enough for the audience to erupt into the “Ali bomaye” chant while they waited.


He won the fight in 8 rounds, based on careful analysis of his opponent, his own physical abilities and a strong backing of the audience. He studied Foreman closely from a video of Foreman knocking Joe Frazier down six times to win the title in 2 rounds. Ali’s business manager Gene Kilroy says: “When Foreman knocked Joe down, George had his hands on the ropes in the neutral corner. Ali said: ‘No stamina. Wait till he hears round six, round seven, round eight’.” He used the rope-a-dope technique (tire out his opponent at the ropes) to ensure that he dragged Foreman to 8 rounds and ultimately knock him out. Watch: Ali vs Foreman fight

As a boxer, he possessed 6 qualities and together they made him unique – an iron clad chin, a ballet dancer’s footwork, hands that moved at the blink of an eye, an analytical brain and most important – a big heart and a bigger mouth!


He was a great sportsman indeed, but what made him greater, was his compassion and the fact that he stood for the poor and the powerless. His business manager, Gene Kilroy recalls a time in Zaire when a lady came by their camp in Zaire and said her son was sick. “Ali said: ‘We’ll go visit him.’ She took us to a leper colony. The staff would put the food down and walk away. Ali was soon lying down with the lepers, hugging them. I took about 10 showers when we got back. Ali just said: ‘Don’t worry about it, God’s looking out for us.’ He always had time for people.”

In his 2004 memoir – The Soul of a Butterfly, he says – “I’d like to be remembered as a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him”


They say a man’s character is best judged by what he does in adversity and Muhammad Ali met adversity head-on with humor. That was one of the traits that endeared him to his fans across the world. Watch: Muhammad Ali humor

“Comedy is a funny way of being serious,” he said in Esquire. “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.”

In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – which slowed him down and silenced him to an extent. But his wit and sharp thinking stayed very much intact. Watch him get Ed Bradley during this CBS 60 minutes interview – when his wife talks about his sleep pattern Ali – 60 minutes Interview

He was a great human being who epitomized love and friendship. Life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls. This touching eulogy from comedian Billy Crystal sums it up aptly Billy Crystal eulogy for Ali







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