Olympic athletes are the perfect example of what the 1% of genetic potential looks like. The conversation seems to be always about how great of athletes they are. Don’t get me wrong, they are great athletes. But is there something below the surface? Michael Phelps is a perfect example. On the surface, he’s a great athlete that has the body type of a swimmer. No one would argue that he’s genetically gifted or meant to dominate the sport of swimming. He’s the most decorated olympian of all time…but look at the other swimmers. On the surface, they also have the genetic build to be great swimmers as well. That begs the question. Why is he so dominant? Why does he have 21 gold medals (he may get another one tonight) and others do not?
For that answer, we need to look below the surface of athletic performance. We need to look at what makes him tick. What makes him so great? Is it his training? We’ve all heard stories about how much he trains. To be honest, his training volume has a lot to do with it, but really what makes him so great is his mental edge. Below the surface of all great athletic performances is the athlete’s’ drive. Why can he handle so much training volume? It’s his mental determination to be the best. Sure, all Olympic athletes have the drive to win and that drive is stronger than average athletes, but they’ve got nothing on Michael Phelps. Since I do not know anyone that has exact insight into his training and his psyche we can only use the examples that we get on the TV.
Two examples prove the point that he is the greatest Olympic athlete of all time besides all the hardware around his neck. The first happened in the final of the 200-meter butterfly in the 2008 Olympics. Do you remember what happened? His goggles filled with water on the final leg. He still won the race. Don’t you think that’s awe-inspiring? Try swimming with water in your goggles against the best swimmers in the world and still manage to win the gold. That’s an amazing amount of focus and drive. The second example happened two nights ago in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. His swim cap ripped right before his turn in the pool. It’s crazy to think what it would be like to borrow a teammate’s cap right before you swim the final leg of the race. It’s just a swim cap but to have your focus broken like that right before the race and then still win it all is astonishing. Yes, his genetics and his athletic ability are two of the reasons he’s so great but the third part of his greatness is below the surface. It’s his deep desire to win.