The 2016 Rio Olympics have begun, unleashing Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu, American shooter Ginny Thrasher, and a whole pack of Brazilian gymnasts. I’ve enjoyed the Times’ coverage, including the Interactive Stories series and the SMS experiment. It was also a nice surprise to find Karen Crouse’s story about Bruce Gemmell, an old college teammate of mine and current coach of swimmer Katie Ledecky. I’ve spent as much time immersed in water as enveloped by math problems, and it’s good to see so many friends and fast swims down in Rio. (Well done with the flag, MP!)
While we marvel at these athletes’ strength and discipline, there’s a trait that’s often easy to overlook. World-class athletes also happen to be terrific problem-solvers.
Over the years I’ve talked to dozens of Olympians, and have learned that outstanding performance requires more than just solid genes and hard work. It also requires solving a series of challenges. How should you balance training and recovery? Which competitions are most important? And how do you stay true to yourself, especially when your personal style might carry you away from conventional wisdom?
For example: Say you’re an elite athlete, and have the opportunity to train with the best in the world. Would you?
This week I’ll share complementary perspectives from two remarkable athletes: triathlon superstar Gwen Jorgensen, who’s favored to win her event in Rio, and swimmer Clark Burckle, who swam in the London Games.
Let’s first take on this week’s cognitive challenge, presented Po-Shen Loh, the coach of Team U.S.A., winner of this year’s International Mathematical Olympiad.
Suppose that Country A has 400 million people, Country B has 100 million people, and each country always sends its strongest person to the Olympics for…