Michael Phelps: No limits

I (Katie) recently read Michael Phelps biography which he wrote after winning an unprecedented 8 gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. This is another one which Manda lent me sometime ago that has been sat on the bookshelf for a while. I am really glad that I finally got round to reading it though. While the book is not as engaging, varied or as well written as some of the other swimming biographies out there it is an really interesting insight into the life and psyche of the greatest ever Olympian.

The book tells the story of the eight Beijing races interspersed with narrative of Phelps’ early life and how he went about preparing for the 2008 Olympics. Of course I knew all of the stats about how many medals Michael had won but reading the book gave me a new appreciation for the enormity of the achievement and the dedication required to get there. Critics who say that it is easier to win a lot of medals in swimming should try swimming 200m free, 200m butterfly, 400m IM etc and being the world best at them.

I won’t recount all of Phelps’ story here as if you want that you should read the book! I will set out a couple of bits that I found really interesting though.

Phelps trains every day! Wow most swimmers have a rest day every week to allow their body to recover but Michael believes that he can be 1/7th better by training every day and this approach clearly works for him! It is interesting though as for a lot of swimmers I think less is actually more and they perform better for a bit of mental and physical downtime.

Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, is the architect of Phelps’ success. Everyone has a different relationship with their coach but Bob is really a second father to Michael. He has coached him from when he was a kid with ADHD and Michael clearly trusts him implicitly. Part of all those gold medals belong to him.

You would have thought that nutrition would be one of the keys to success but not the way Phelps’ tells it. There seems to be a lot of breakfast burritos consumed!

Speedo gave Phelps a $1 million bonus for beating Mark Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals at one games which Michael donated to charity. I’m sure this was well publicised at the time but I had not heard this before. As an executive compensation consultant the idea of incentive pay in swimming was very interesting to me. Was it the $1 million that inspired Phelps? I very very much doubt it – he was motivated to win regardless.

The book talks about Phelps’ conviction for drink driving in 2004 after the Athens games. He talks how he feel like he let everyone, especially Bob down. In 2014 Phelps was charged again with drink driving in 2014 and ordered to spend 45 days in a treatment facility. There is clearly a side of Michael’s life which understandably isn’t discussed in the book.

As I mentioned above the book was written after the 2008 Games but this clearly is not the end of Michael story. He competed at the London 2012 Games winning four gold medals and two silvers. This took his Olympic medal haul to a record 18 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes. After London Phelps retired. Once a swimmer always a swimmer though as Phelps is currently staging a come back. In August 2015 he competed in the U.S. nationals while the world champs were on in Kazan, Russia. Michael won the 200m fly in 1.52.94. This is his fastest time since he set the world record in one of the shiny suits and would have won him the 2015 world title by a mile (Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took the title in 1.53.48). The 2016 Rio Games are going to be fun to watch!

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