“Yes, the pain shot through me like a knife. It brought tears to my eyes.
But now I have a gold medal and the pain is gone.” Shun Fujimoto

On the bleeding edge of chaos is where successful people are able to do the things that unsuccessful people won’t and consistently create the big breakthroughs. The brain-sweating effort on a problem or opportunity that nobody else cares about or possibly nobody on the planet knows even exists. Hanging it all out there, giving 100% with no CNN cameras, just you and the vision of perfection that exists only in your mind. No comforting “at-a-boys,” no words of understanding, all the risks, all the expenses, all the confusion, and chaos.

Enter Shun Fujimoto

Unknown to Japanese Gymnast, Shun Fujimoto, it was to be the final tumbling run of his career. With his final exertion, he felt a very odd sensation in his right knee. “It felt hollow,” he recalled later, “as if there were air in it.” He had actually broken his kneecap. An injury like this is a disaster under any circumstance, but if revealed to the judges or coaches an immediate end to his participation in this contest of all contests, the 1976 Olympic games.

In a supreme act of will, Fujimoto did not tell his coach, Yakuji Hayata or anyone else that he was severely injured. He knew that the competition from the Soviet Union was immense and that even the slightest loss of points could be the difference between winning and losing.

Fujimoto continued onto the next event, the pommel horse. His will to win was so complete that he managed to score 9.5 out of 10 potential points. “I was completely occupied by the thought that I could not afford to make any mistakes,” he said.

The pommel horse was extremely difficult with his leg in excruciating pain, but the next event, the rings presented an almost unbelievable challenge because of the high-flying dismount. How could Fujimoto possibly concentrate on a routine knowing the pain that awaited him on the dismount and probable collapse?

Completely ignoring the consequences, Fujimoto proceeded to give the best performance of his life. He completed the almost perfect routine by hurling his body through a perfectly executed triple somersault dismount. When his feet hit the floor the pain seared through him “like a knife,” he said, but with his right leg only buckling slightly, he kept his balance for the judges. With his arms raised and tears in his eyes at the finish, the judges gave him a career high 9.7.

Afterward, Fujimoto in total agony collapsed into the arms of his coach. The force from the dismount had completely finished dislocating the kneecap in his right leg. “How he managed to do somersaults and twists and land without collapsing in screams,” said one physician “is beyond my comprehension.” He was immediately ordered to withdrawal from the games.

His teammates, totally inspired by his incredible display of will, managed to go on and win the closest gymnastics team competition in Olympic history, 576.85 points to 576.45.

You don’t have to crush your own knee to create huge breakthroughs, but having the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done is the difference that will always make the difference.

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