What Drives Olympians?

Michael Phelps, arguably the best Olympian of all-time broke the record for most medals ever won by an Olympian during the London 2012 Olympics. Watching the London Olympics, we see all athletes’ different rhythms and pre-race protocols, also known as routines. It’s amazing to see how sports are distinctive, yet parallel in the level of preparation. From swimmers spitting water in the pool, gymnasts grinding chalk into their palms, and table tennis players rubbing sweaty palms on the face of the table in between serves, all these routines differ but the everlasting drive is comparable. Each athlete in the London Olympics has some sort of pre-game ritual, or routine. Several are more bizarre than you think, but we don’t question its value to winning the gold.

Specifically, a variety of gymnasts have been away from home for 4+ years training for one event, one moment, and one chance. It’s up to them to tame their nerves and prove a calming presence for greatness during their shot at fame in London. It’s difficult being away from home at age 17, but their drive to win is greater than those who didn’t focus every minute of the day to train and perfect their craft.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, two of the best American swimmers have very different training regimens, but they are both Olympians and both gold medalists. The value in the lesson is that there are millions of ways to succeed and not one method is proven to be the ultimate, or sole way to win. Ryan Lochte spends time surfing, skateboarding, and living his life to the fullest every day apart from training. Many analysts proclaim it irresponsible for chance of injuring himself while he calls it life. Michael Phelps on the other hand was called out by a teammate for not training “as hard” for the London Games; however, he is still a gold medalist and considered the greatest olympic athlete.

For Phelps, his ritual is no different than any other athlete: he listens to music. He typically sits in a secluded room with other swimmers and watches swimming events while donning big headphones listening to whatever music may relax him. We don’t know for sure what he listens to, but he has done the same ritual since the Sydney Games and has proven successful. Music, whatever genre, has the power to release stress, relax, and calm. On the other hand, people listen to music to get themselves pumped up for the big race or event. Needless to say, music has been proven successful for thousands of athletes because of its calming presence. It is an escape from reality for a minuscule moment of time, but what may seem like years if it was not there. Athletes continue to believe in its benefits, but also the power of a good ritual. Whether you are an athlete in handball, table tennis, badminton, gymnastics, or swimming, rituals are important to athlete’s mental success and place themselves in the mindset of a world champion. Phelps’ methods have been proven successful. With Phelps and many others, we can assume that music can be the catalyst driving factor of winning in general. If you try listening to music before a big event, game, or race, I guarantee you won’t be upset.

For more information on Michael Phelps, People Magazine ran a story  in 2008 during the Beijing Summer Olympics portraying part of Michael Phelps’ Pre-Swim Rituals.

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We do not own the photo, it was taken by Getty Images in an article with Yahoo! Sports.