The Road to Exceptional Expertise and Success - A Study of the Collective Creativity of Five Multiple Olympic Gold Medalists

Susanna Rahkamo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


This qualitative study is about self-organized and distributed dynamic systems focusing on the process of building exceptional expertise, paying special attention to how creativity contributes to the process. Using grounded theory, the study reveals, which factors and processes built Finnish multi-times Olympic Champions to become unbeatable; and furthermore, provides insight into what the role of creativity is in the process. This study states that the development of exceptional expertise in sports is a cumulative cyclical spiral that has six factors linked to each other. The factors in the spiral are: 1) questioning and playing with the thought, 2) insight, 3) systemic applications, 4) faith in self, 5) inner drive and 6) persistent work. These factors have been studied separately in various studies, but how they all link together has not been presented before. In the system of building excellence, the athlete, the coach and significant other people, as well as the culture, the environment, the equipment and the surroundings are in dynamic interaction. From the effect of these interactions, new opportunities emerge as activities evolve. Little sparks of insights appear little by little through collaboration, seeing, probing and reflecting, affecting an exclusive perspective, understanding, view and allowing holistic insights to develop. Therefore, building excellence is a collective activity merging many peoples' knowing together and this requires creative agency from the athlete as well as from others. As a result of collaboration several expert growing processes often develop side by side, reinforcing each other. This study shows that creativity has an important role in forming the unique insight and this insight affects the quantum leap to exceptional expertise. In such a non-linear system, it is difficult to find any single creator or a simple explanation for success such as an athlete or coach's creativity. However, it is important to identify creative mechanisms that affect the progression to peak success. Until now, the role of creativity in becoming exceptional in sports has gained little attention in academic research. This study brings new viewpoints to building excellence in sports. Furthermore, the study sheds light on this thorny concept, providing insight for any experts, teams and organizations also in other domains searching for a winning edge and the way to become exceptional experts.
Translated title of the contributionTie menestyksekkääksi huippuasiantuntijaksi – Tutkimus viiden moninkertaisen suomalaisen olympiavoittajan kollektiivisesta luovuudesta
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Vartiainen, Matti, Supervising Professor
  • Sydänmaanlakka, Pentti, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7178-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7177-0
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • expertise
  • collective creativity
  • sports
  • success
  • development
  • Olympic athlete


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