Guess the athlete.

He won four Olympic gold medals on the track, three of the four in different disciplines.

We won eight World Championship gold medals, again across three disciplines.

IAAF world athlete of the year in 1996 and 1999.

For almost a decade, he held world records in the 200m, 400m, indoor 400m, the world’s best time in 300m and the world record for the 4 x 400m relay.  

At a ceremony where he was introduced in the United States Track & Field Hall of Fame, his world record in the 200m, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was deemed the greatest track and field moment in the last quarter of a century.

He is Michael Johnson. The US sprinter with the unique, upright running style with small steps that some argued is not the most optimal way to sprint.

His 19.32s 200m world record in 1996, bettered by Usian Bolt in 2009 with a 19.19s sprint, was a great, nay, spectacular run. However, his 400m world record sprint in 1999, I would argue, is an even greater feat. In particular considering the events that led up to the race.

1999 was a tough year for Johnson. He was plagued by injuries that started in June 1997 during a World’s Fastest Human race against the Canadian sprinter, Donovan Bailey. In fact, he did not even qualify for the world championships as he did not compete in the US trials because of injury. To the fortune of Johnson, the IAAF changed qualifying rules two years earlier that provided automatic entry for defending champions. 

Defying the odds, on 26 August 1999, Johnson ran the 400m in the fastest time ever recorded, 43.18s, breaking Butch Reynold’s 11-year-old record of 43.29s. Remarkable, especially considering that three weeks earlier he was considering retirement.

Johnson ran the race in lane 5.

Seven years prior to the historical night, a boy was born in Kraaifontein, a suburb of Cape Town, for those not familiar with the town.

Now 27 years of age, he currently has one Olympic Gold medal, two gold, and one silver world championship medal.

He is the only sprinter, ever, to have run the 100m in sub 10s, the 200m in sub 20s, the 300m in sub 31s and the 400m in sub 44s.

He was the South African flagbearer at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. He is the man that broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year, ‘unbeatable’ world 400m record. He is Wayde van Niekerk.

On August 12, 2016, Van Niekerk lined up in heat 3 of the 400m at the Olympic Games in Brazil. He managed to win the heat comfortably with a time of 45.26s. The following evening it was time for the semi-finals.

Van Niekerk competed in the second semi-final; however, he did not manage to win the race, but ended second with a time of 44.45s. This meant that he had to line up in lane 8 for the final.

Lane 8 is not usually the lane you want to run from in 400m. It does have the shallowest bend; however, you start further forward than the other athletes, which means you have to set your own pace, there is no one to chase down. There is no target. There is no one you can measure your efforts against. Not great in athletics.

It’s a different story in investing.

Money and investing is personal. The circumstances of each individual, even your twin, differs. Your age differs, income is different, view towards risk is different, family setup is different, future goals, wants and needs are all different. Every individual and his or her circumstances are unique.

If everyone is unique, how can any one investment strategy and/or plan be the same for two individuals? And if your strategy is not the same, how can you measure your performance against others?

Regret Aversion is cognitive bias where a decision maker often chooses the option that would carry the least regret even if it’s not the most optimal. Investors notice, or are more often than not told by an acquaintance, how well a particular investment is doing, and they feel like they are missing out. They look left and right in the ‘race’ and feel that others are pulling ahead, and then decisions are made that is not the best for you, but in line with what others are doing.

Stay in your lane. Success in investing is about reaching your personal goals not the goals of others. If you can resist the temptation to try and ‘beat’ others and focus on running your own race, well, then the probability of success is so much higher. 

On 14 August 2016, Wade van Niekerk ran a race with 100m splits of 10.7s, 9.8s, 10.5s and 12s respectively, clocking 43.03s.

He ran from lane 8 with no view of his fellow competitors. He ran his own race to the best of his ability. And we know what the outcome of that race was. He smashed Michael Johnson’s 17-year record. 

Hannes Viljoen is a Chartered Financial Analyst. Views expressed are his own. 

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