SFME had the pleasure of meeting serial gold medal winner Michael Phelps at the opening of the new Under Armour store in Dubai Mall this week and the swimming legend shared his insights about how he rose to the pinnacle of his sport and how hard work and dedication behind closed doors is key to becoming the world’s best.
Twenty years of gruelling training in the pool and gym has seen Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 Olympic medals to his name. The American’s first Olympic Games was Sydney in 2000 and at the age of just 15 he became the youngest male to make the US swim team in 68 years. He would not go on to win a medal at his first Games but it would be the start of a truly remarkable story in his search for Olympic greatness. Four more games and countless world records followed before Phelps decided to finally hang up his suit after the 2016 Games in Rio.
To the watching world, his meteoric rise to the top may have looked to come somewhat easily for the 6 ft 5in athlete who undoubtedly has optimum physical attributes for a world-class swimmer. But, as Phelps reveals, it took a lot of hard work to make it took that easy.
“Nobody really saw what I did behind closed doors and the amount of training, recovering, sleeping and eating that went with me being able to be me and do what I had to do,” he said.
“It’s true in every walk of life, we’re all working hard at our goal to be happy and a lot of people don’t really see what we do behind closed doors. Once we accomplish that goal then other people around you can see what you were working so hard towards.”
A recent television advert gave a taste of the effort Phelps had to put in behind the scenes en route to becoming an Olympic champion, and Phelps was happy that people got to see the hard yards that go hand in hand with being a world beater. “That’s a little taste of what I had to go through over 20 years,” he said. “I had the opportunity to do what nobody else has ever done, that’s something that excited me. For me, it was easy to sacrifice certain things.”
Phelps certainly did more than sacrifice certain things. His coach, Bob Bowman, suggested that to outstrip his rivals he should consider increasing his training schedule to seven days a week. Phelps subsequently went five years without taking a single day off, including Christmas day.
“My coach had this idea of training every single day and he explained to me why we were doing it,” said Phelps. “In professional sport so many people take one day off and it takes them two days to get back to where they were. I wanted to take a step ahead of everybody else because they weren’t training on Sunday or on holidays so for me every single year I had more than 52 extra days’ training than every single person.
“To get to where I wanted to be it was easy for me to make that sacrifice and go under the water on Christmas morning before we opened our presents or on my birthday when I would rather not be doing anything.”
The remarkable training regime clearly gave Phelps an advantage over his rivals as he collected numerous gold medals, not just at the Olympic Games but also the World Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships during a glittering 16 year period of dominance.
Becoming the world’s greatest is no easy feat. Natural talent will get you only so far but to reach the very pinnacle of sport, and to stay there for as long as Phelps did, requires dedication, focus, and sacrifice.
“The difference between good and great is the people who are great will do things when they don’t always want to,” said the seven-time world record holder. “I had goals that I wanted to accomplish and I was hard on myself, so I forced myself during those days because I knew I wanted to accomplish my goal and that helped me.”