When fractions of effort make a difference

Olympian explains how he crashed, then vaulted to success

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar entertained a capacity luncheon audience Wednesday at Centennial Hall with alternating pommel horse moves, quips and his philosophy of achieving greatness.

The program opened with video clips of Vidmar in his glory, performing at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when he captained the U.S. Men's Gymnastics Team to its first-ever Olympic gold medal in a stunning defeat of gymnasts from the People's Republic of China.

``It's nice to see the video,'' Vidmar joked, ``because it shows that I used to be able to do this stuff.''

Vidmar puffs a bit when he goes through his routine now, but his pendulum swings, scissors and flares can still make an audience hold its breath.

Vidmar was second in a four-speaker lecture series, Pillars of America Freedom, hosted by the Glacier Valley Rotary Club.

Vidmar noted it's not necessary to be as physically large as Jesse Ventura to make a dent in history. ``The lack of height actually helps in my sport because of the strength-to-weight ratio that we can find more easily than the bigger guys,'' Vidmar said. He noted he is ``9 inches taller than Mary Lou Retton,'' another 1984 Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.


His approach to achieving is ``ROV,'' for ``risk, originality and virtuosity.'' He illustrated each part of this formula for success with demonstrations on the pommel horse as he spoke.

In the Olympics, he said, ``people don't win by much.'' He cited examples of a woman cyclist who lost a distance race by an inch, and a male swimmer who won by 1/100th of a second. The difference between a perfect score of 10 and his average score of 9.4 is just six-tenths of a point.

In 20,000 hours of practice for a 30-second routine, he and his teammates daily re-energized one another and whittled away at that six-tenths.

After he ``crashed and burned'' at the Budapest world gymnastics seven months before Los Angeles, he realized the challenge was to change his behavior to make a difference.

``You may have over 100 different skills in a routine, and you have to perfect each one. So every day for the next seven months I practiced catching the bar, and (high bar) was one of the routines that I got a perfect 10 on. If I had never made the mistake in Budapest, I probably would have continued to not give enough time.''

His message was ``the little extra things we do every day, if we are consistent, make a huge difference.''

Forget advice like ``try twice as hard tomorrow,'' he said. In gymnastics, you practice six hours a day. ``If I practiced twice as hard, 12 hours, my body would fall apart. But I could practice six hours and 15 minutes'' and that made all the difference.

Vidmar served with Arnold Schwarzenegger on President George Bush's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport. He is a member of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for California, and a commentator for CBS Sports. He lives in California with his wife and five children.

Vidmar's appearance in Juneau was sponsored by First National Bank Anchorage and Coeur Alaska.

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