Would you collaborate with the very people standing between you and your lifelong dream of an Olympic medal?

Olympian Lea Davison's TedX talk reveals the story behind "USlay" and how collaboration is winning even if you lose

Lea Davison and Kate Courtney celebrate race results
(Image credit: Lea Davison)

Wouldn’t it feel better to win even when we lose? 

In 2019, two-time Olympic mountain biker (and gravel racing dabbler) Lea Davison had one last chance to fulfill her lifelong dream: to win an Olympic medal. 

After nearly 20 years in the sport, the then-36-year-old had two Olympic Game appearances, five national championship titles, a silver medal at the UCI world championships and multiple world championship podium finishes to look back upon, but that Olympic medal still eluded her.

Tokyo would likely be her last chance, but to get there she had to qualify first. 

That previous year, the UCI had released its qualification rulebook for the Olympic cross-country race, which held an enticing new opportunity: the two nations topping the UCI rankings could bring three, not two, athletes to the Olympics. 

In the race for Olympic qualification, however, your compatriots are your biggest rivals. They are the ones standing between you and your chance to go to the Olympics.

Yet, with one extra Olympic starting spot to gain, Davison turned to her peers and rivals —Kate Courtney, Erin Huck, Chloe Woodruff, Hannah Finchamp and Haley Batten— with a radical proposal.

Going against the sport's solo nature, what if they turned this individual sport into a team effort for a push to secure that third berth at the Olympics? 

Would you train, race and collaborate with the very people standing between you and your lifelong dream of an Olympic medal? 

The American women said yes. Risking jeopardizing their own, individual qualification, the six women spent the years leading up to the Games working as a collective, racing as a team, chasing UCI points across the globe and going on training camps together to lift everyone's game. 

The collaborative effort became known as "USlay" and was an absolute success. Beating the cycling powerhouses of Canada and the Netherlands in the UCI rankings, Team USA indeed managed to secure three spots for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. For Davison herself, however, it was heartbreak. 

Courtney and Batten's successes in World Cup racing earned them automatic qualification. The third spot, however, came down to three contenders: Woodruff, Huck and Davison. 

Woodruff was initially awarded the spot, but resigned for personal reasons while Huck launched a legal appeal against the USA Cycling selection committee. Huck ultimately won the appeal and rounded out the Olympic roster. 

Davison had missed out on selection and retired at the start of the 2022. But while devastated, she takes comfort in the beautiful thing they created, which she calls ''competitive collaboration."

Earlier this year, Davison took the stage at TEDx Boston — "The Olympics of Public Speaking"— to share the insights of this collaborative effort and how it can be applied to all facets of life. 

Her talk titled “How to Win When You Don’t," centers around the concept that collaboration is winning, and that there is opportunity for collaboration to enhance everyone’s life — from sports, to business to building bipartisanship to solve climate change and human rights issues. 

Watch it here:

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