Every four years, the world is taken aback by the Summer Olympic Games. This year, is no different as London plays host to millions of athletes from around the world. One sport I always enjoy watching is swimming. As a former competitive swimmer, I love seeing the attention and air-time the sport receives. The last two Olympic games really put swimming in the spotlight. A handful of individuals have brought swimming to the centre stage of the world. None have done it quite the way Michael Phelps has.
Who is he?
Michael Fred Phelps was born on June 30, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland. He began swimming at the age of seven. During the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Swimming served as an outlet for his energy. At the early age of 15, he qualified for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He became the youngest male to make the US Olympic swim team in almost 70 years.
Michael Phelps has a physique that propels him in the sport of swimming. His long, thin torso offers minimal drag. His arm span of 6 ft. 7 inches (disproportionate to his height of 6 ft. 4 inches) provides a “paddle” like advantage over his competition. His size 14 feet act as “flippers” in the water combined with his double-jointed knees and feet that can rotate 15 degrees more than the average person. This all provides him with an arsenal to propel in the pool.
Just how good is he?
Where should I begin? Anyone who watched the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing might know a thing or two about his accomplishments. He has plenty so here are the most significant:
- Has won the most gold medals in a single Olympics with eight golds at the 2008 Beijing Games
- All time record for most Olympic gold medals: 14
- Has set 39 world records, more than any other swimmer (currently holds seven of them)
- 2nd all time for total Olympic medals won: 17 (will look to surpass the record of 18 in London)
- Has won 66 medals in major international competitions (44 gold, 9 silver, 3 bronze)
- Named World Swimmer of the Year six times, American Swimmer of the Year eight times
I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are plenty more to choose from dating back to when Phelps was only 14 years old. I’m sure this section will need updating in a few weeks after the 2012 games are complete.
The Training Regiment
Phelps trains twice a day, six hours in total, six days a week without any exceptions including Christmas day. He swims approximately 80 km. during each week of training. He also does a weightlifting routine three times a week to help build his physical body. He incorporates weight exercises and body weight exercises into his workout to avoid any “bulking” and weight gain in order to stay mobile in the water.
Phelps’ diet has made headlines on numerous occasions. He consumes 12,000 calories a day (compared to the 2000 an average man needs). Why all the extra calories? Well, all that training requires energy and fuel. Without the monster meals Phelps consumes, his body would not be able to train at the capacity he desires.
Since Beijing 2008
After achieving glory at the 2008 games, Phelps found it hard to maintain his motivation. He had three Olympic games under his belt and 16 medals (14 of them gold). What more did a man in his position really need? Another four years of being in the pool six hours a day, six days a week? Another four years of being “the enemy” of all male swimmers around the world?
Understandably, Phelps went through some obstacles following the Beijing games. His physical condition dropped when he gained 25 pounds. He stopped training everyday, and did “nothing” at home but sit around and play video games. He was seen smoking marijuana and was suspended from competition for three months by USA swimming as a result. It wasn’t until March 2009, when Phelps made the decision to commit himself to the 2012 games. Even then he still faced months of skipping practices and arguments with longtime coach Bob Bowman. Eventually, Phelps got back into the zone and was able to focus on training and getting to the London games.
Phelps originally qualified for the exact same eight events he competed in at the Beijing games. This despite wanting to try a different “program” for London. Phelps has dropped out of one event to allow him time and energy to focus on the races that are important to him. You can’t mention Phelps and the London games without talking about Ryan Lochte. The man looking to strip Phelps of his fame and stardom in the pool. Lochte is slated as the current fastest swimmer in the world having beaten Phelps on a few occasions in 2011. The media have gone on a frenzy comparing the two and hyping up the rivalry.
This past Saturday, Phelps placed fourth in the 400 IM behind a first place finish by Ryan Lochte. A certain disappointment for Phelps. It will be interesting to see how their remaining match-up plays out, the 200 IM on August 2nd.
The London Olympics will be the last Olympic competition for Phelps. He’s said it out-right he plans to retire after the London games. At the age of 27, he’s ready to explore the world outside of the pool. As someone who devoted a portion of my life to training and competing, I can only imagine how badly he wants to try something new after years and years of swimming.
We may never see another swimmer achieve what Michael Phelps has for quite some time. He’s a legend and easily the fastest swimmer to have ever jumped into a pool.