Letís say you like a particular sport like gymnastics when youíre little. What does it take to turn that hobby or fun bit of exercise into an Olympic dream? If youíre from China, it might mean being removed from your family and home as early as three years of age and taken to live and train at the countryís gymnastic facilities. Youíd see your parents perhaps once a year. That might seem extreme to many of us not living in the Chinese culture, but becoming an Olympic athlete is much more than practicing one a day or just being talented and really good at math (aka Ice Princess.)
The Makings of an Olympian
So what does make an Olympian? To hear the story of Michael Phelps Ė the record breaking swimmer from the USA, if you donít know Ė he was the son of a single mom who had too much energy. Actually, he was officially diagnosed with ADHD, which is more than just an excess of energy, but enough about that.
Mom enrolled him in swimming while he was in elementary school. He was immensely talented and his coach (who was like a father to him) came to mom when Phelps was in middle school to have a chat. He told her they can get serious about his training program and get him into the Olympics in a few years, or the swimming can just be a hobby and the dream can die before it even begins. Itís obvious which one she chose. He went to his first Olympic Games when he was just 15.
Obviously you must have talent, and you must have the right frame for the sport. Phelps wears a size 14 shoe and has a wingspan (arms spread) of over six and a half feet. Heís six feet, four inches tall as well. If you threw a man who was barely five feet tall into the pool with the big boys, heíd have to work a lot harder to compete. On the flip side, imagine the giant Phelps trying to fly around the parallel bars the way the menís gymnastic team does. It would be a nightmare. In short, size counts.
Training for the Olympics
To train for the Olympics, your dream of competition must be larger than anything else. Your goal is to prepare for the games, and everything Ė school, friends, boyfriends, family comes second to that, although some athletes manage a bit more balance. Your family has to be willing to make sacrifices. If you want to train with the best coaches, they will not come to you, youíll have to go to them. This means the entire family might be uprooted so that you can be closer to the coaches who produce winners.
Your days and nights will consist of your sport. If youíre training as a gymnast, youíll be in the gym for hours every morning, afternoon and evening with very little time off. Your training will include all kinds of exercises to help build speed, stamina and flexibility. A routine on the balance beam that lasts two minutes will take thousands of hours to prepare. Your school work will be done with a tutor or distance classes. College might be determined by the athletic program offered or put off as too time consuming for the present.
And then, finally, your skill alone might not qualify you for the team Ė you must be selected by the Olympic committee. As athletes like Raj Bhavsar know all too well, sometimes, youíre just overlooked. Fortunately for him, he didnít have to sit out his second round of Olympic games as the team alternate. He was pulled into the games at the last minute when Paul Hamm pulled out and finally got his chance to shine as an Olympic athlete.