It is compelling to watch…I mean watching Michael Phelps tear the competition apart as he motors through the water with such seeming ease… Knocking up more world records and gold medals to become the Olympian with the most gold medals in history.
Todays blog is simply a duplicate of a Times article about Michael Phelps that shows that he has a brilliant mind as well as everything else… For me he is a shining example of self-hypnosis in action, when you read this, you’ll know why…
Here is what this article at the Times wrote about Michael Phelps:
Think America and swimming and the mind wanders from Baywatch and beach babes to California beaches and the birthplace of Olympic legend Mark Spitz, he of the moustache and seven gold medals in a sport for the landed and loaded with ocean views and time and talent to spare.
Think again. Try a working-class world away, Baltimore, Babe Ruth, broken home, burning ambition, back-breaking regime, a boy with a breathtaking talent. Think big. Think Michael Fred Phelps. Not seven laurels, but eight. No limits.
“You can’t put a limit on anything,” says the 23-year-old born in Towson, Maryland, and sporting a 6ft 7in armspan to outstretch his 6ft 5in height. He is a medal-winning machine who broke the mould.
“The more you dream, the farther you get.”
Setting limits such as eight gold medals is not enough for Superfish. “If that sort of stuff is my goal, then that’s where the line is drawn. I can only imagine. If you don’t, you sell yourself short and you never reach your potential.”
Marketeers, merchandisers and the men from NBC-TV with 793 million of their dollars in a Swiss vault marked IOC have flocked to claim a part of Phelps. They even switched the swim programme at the Water Cube so that finals were held in the morning. All the better for US prime time advertising revenue and audience figures.
That his size 15 feet are firmly on the ground is no surprise. Born in the blue-collar milltown of Towson on the north-east coast of Maryland, where dreams are made on football fields not in water, the third and youngest child of Fred, a state trooper, and Debbie, a school administrator and teacher. He followed his sisters, Hilary and Whitney, to the North Baltimore Aquatics club headed by coach Bowman.
Whitney, whose own international career was cut short by a back injury, would later refer to swimming as a refuge from the domestic maelstrom. “I didn’t have to listen to people yelling or bickering and complaining. It was my escape,” said Whitney. “I took a lot of anger and beat it out, just me and the bottom of the pool”. Separated and reconciled before Michael was born, Fred and Debbie made the final split just as their seven-year-old son started to swim competitively.
Phelps had a stand-up row with Fred that created a months-long rift between father and son in 2003. Three days after Phelps’s high-school graduation ceremony, Fred visited the family’s townhouse in Baltimore and was told by the swimmer that his two complimentary tickets to the world championships in Barcelona would go to his mother and sister Hilary. Fred walked out and missed his son’s graduation party. They made up just before the Olympic Games in Athens.
It is mother and daughters that you see hanging over the rails accepting flowers from Phelps with each passing gold medal and world record — five down, three to go — at the Water Cube. The tears that flow are not just for what is unfolding before their eyes but because they know what went into making it all possible. “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus,’ ” recalls Debbie, a teacher for 22 years. “I said, maybe he’s bored.” The teacher said that was impossible. “He’s not gifted,” came back the reply. “Your son will never be able to focus on anything.”
Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was put on permanent medication but after two years, he had had enough. His mother, speaking at the hospitality lounge set up by Speedo — the sponsor who will pay $1m to Phelps should he match Spitz’s seven gold medals — recalled: “Out of the blue, he said to me: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, Mom. My buddies don’t do it. I can do this on my own.’ ”
On his own and in the pool, channelling his energy. When Phelps was 11 his swim coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman, now here in Beijing as USA men’s head coach, took Debbie aside and said: “By 2000, I look for him to be in the Olympic trials. By 2004, he makes the Olympics. By 2008, he’ll set world records. By 2012, the Olympics will be in New York and …”. The swimmer’s mother was alarmed. Bowman had spotted something incredibly unusual in his pool, not only in terms of talent but outlook and specific intellect.
“Michael’s mind is like a clock. He can go into the 200 butterfly knowing he needs to do the first 50 in 24.6 to break the record and can put that time in his head and make his body do 24.6 exactly,” said his mother. He always did his swimming homework. “In high school, they’d send tapes from his international races. He’d say, ‘Mom I want to have dinner in front of the TV and watch tapes.’ We’d sit and he’d critique his races. He’d study the turns — ‘See, that’s where I lifted my head.’ I couldn’t even see what he was talking about. Over and over.”
Phelps was teased at school for having “sticky out ears” and a gawky expression. His mother recalled that her son “grew unevenly … it was his ears, then he had very long arms, then he would catch up somewhere else…” For the first time, Phelps talked of the “deep hurt” he felt as a child being teased. His response was telling. He channelled his anger into swimming lessons and later training.
That ability to convert the negative into a positive is one of the secrets of Phelps’s success. “One of the things I call Michael is the motivation machine,” says Bowman. “Bad moods, good moods, he channels everything for gain. He’s motivated by success, he loves to swim fast and when he does that he goes back and trains better. He’s motivated by failure, by money, by people saying things about him … just anything that comes along he turns into a reason to train harder, swim better. Channelling his energy is one of his greatest attributes.”
Bowman discovered hidden depths to Phelps early on. “He’s had the same mental approach since he was very young. There is nothing on his mind. He’s able to block everything out,” says the coach. A symptom perhaps of the need to bottle-up, to block out, both in what has been at times a troubled home and in the midst of a regime that many would faint away at the very thought of: Phelps covers more than 100km in water a week during the hardest times, seven days a week, including Christmas Day.
“We’re seven days, 365 days of the year here,” said Phelps. “When you train at Christmas you kinda know that others aren’t doing that. It’s a good feeling to know you’ve done something they didn’t.” Bowman says he actually enjoys it. True? “Yes, I do enjoy it. I enjoy a challenge. The challenge of going to the Olympics and having tons of pressure on you is always out there but I find it exciting. I’ve got loads of goals to reach for and I’m willing to work for those.”
His ability to block out all distractions is one of several weapons in Phelps’s war chest. “Sure, I can disappear when I have to,” is all that he will say, comfortable with the notion of a place that only the great competitors can go. Swimming is like that: no sound of breath on your neck or footstep behind you, no roar of crowd, only a muffled hum and a relationship with the water. Phelps sings “the same song over and over and over again” a habit that he says is “the one thing that gets me through practice”.
Bowman and Phelps have not always enjoyed harmonious times. “Yeah, sure he challenges me,” says Bowman, who the swimmer calls “my second dad”.
“But I think that Michael has a very high regard for me. He doesn’t challenge me on what we should be doing in training. I think that where we really clash is where I’m trying to push him to a position he doesn’t want to be pushed to. On a daily basis I remind Michael of what his long and short-term goals are and how he stands today in relation to that. That’s where that whole thing comes in where many say ‘I’ll deal with it tomorrow’. I’m there to say ‘No, let’s deal with it today’. That’s my job. There’s a a lot of work that goes into it. There are a lot of ups and downs. He has bad days just like everybody else.”
Phelps’s arrival in the Baltimore youth pool was the answer to Bowman’s prayers after several failed attempts at translating to sports coaching the rigour and repetition drummed into him as a music scholar. Bowman learned to play piano at 10. At 12, his father took him to watch a swimming competition at which Tracey Caulkins, arguably the most versatile female swimmer in history and deprived by the 1980 Games boycott, held top billing. Watching her was “like hearing an orchestra play”, said Bowman, a Beethoven fan with a degree in developmental psychology (minoring in music composition) and owner of a Maryland stud.
In his early days as a swim coach, Bowman’s tempo resulted in burnout among a fair few youngsters. “I was definitely overzealous,” says Bowman. Enter Phelps, a boy who by 11 had a capacity to train in sync with Bowman’s beat and compete in a way that turned the standard tune on its head. “His greatest strength is his ability to relax and focus under pressure. As the pressure gets higher, he performs better — that’s very rare,” says Bowman. “He has an ability at the critical moment to be at his best.”
An ability, too, to endure what Bowman describes as “a more intense programme than any other swimmer, domestic or international”. Phelps covers between 16 and 18km in training every day (even at altitude, an expenditure of energy that is replenished by breakfasts said to be of a size fit to feed “a small neighbourhood”), trains seven days a week (up to six of them for up to six hours), including Christmas Day, and has done so since he was 14.
In Athens four years ago, he won six gold medals and two bronzes. He then let his hair down and the world heard about it. Like many teenagers, as he was then, he went on a bender. He then got in his car, was stopped by the police and charged with driving under the influence by police in Maryland. He issued an apology: “It was a mistake. Getting into a car with anything to drink is wrong. It’s dangerous and it’s unacceptable. I’m 19, but was taught that no matter how old you are, you take responsibility for actions, which I will do. I’m extremely sorry.” Beyond that, Phelps has towed a tight light on his trajectory to becoming, as he did today, the most crowned Olympic athlete in history, with 11 gold medals hanging around his neck.
Beijing is all about the final notes of Bowman’s Eighth Symphony. This is not just about winning some races, it is about following a masterplan that only Bowman and Phelps have had access too. Not even the swimmer’s mother has been given access to the ledger where the goals are written down.
There are good reasons why Phelps can stand up day after day and achieve things beyond the vast majority of world-class athletes, let alone mere mortals. One of those reasons is a bizarre physiology. Sports science suggests that Phelps is unique: beyond an armspan worthy of the curse of the ancient mariner, paddle-like hands, a whippet-like 13st 10lbs frame of cut muscle, no fat, nuclear calves and a flexibility fit to make a contortionist blush, his cardio-vascular system has had swimming scholars in a frenzy.
US team physiologist Genadijus Sokolovas has monitored more than 5,000 swimmers over the past 20 years and most end a race with a lacticity (build-up of lactic acid in the blood caused by oxygen starvation in fast-twitch fibres) of between 10 and 15 millimoles per litre of blood. Just one world-record breaker has registered a sub-10 millimole count: after Phelps broke the 200 metres butterfly world record his count was 5.6. While most swimmers take 20-30 minutes to recover from a race, Phelps can bounce back in 10 minutes. On a night when Phelps raced two events recently, the first a final, the second a semi-final, his lacticity count was above 10 after the first race but below it after the second, suggesting that he is actually recovering while racing below peak.
In Melbourne last year, the world championships served as a dress rehearsal for the Games in Beijing. Phelps won seven gold medals, missing one because the USA medley relay got disqualified for a false start in the heats. Seven, however, was a record, and the way that Phelps went about his mission has entered sporting lore.
“There has been nobody that’s been not just as dominant but as versatile,” says Schubert. “His performance was the greatest performance of all time. He can do it from behind, he can do it from the front, he can do it when it’s close, he can do it when it’s not close. He can go anywhere.” In China, Phelps is doing just that.
“What Michael’s doing, it’s elevating everybody else’s performance here,” said US teammate and 100m backstroke champion here in Beijing, Aaron Peirsol, who, like Phelps, arrived in Olympic waters in Sydney in 2000 and won a silver medal at 17 in the 200m backstroke. “He’s [Phelps] not just winning but destroying everything. It’s awesome to watch.” Indeed it is.
I agree — it is. His communication with himself, his discipline and dedication, his inspiration and psychology… It is beautiful… For me, there is no better example of a genius self-hypnotist!