by Piers Morgan
I interviewed Michael Phelps shortly before the London 2012 Olympics.
He had a massive presence.
Not just physically, though he’s an extraordinary human specimen: 6ft 4in tall, size 14 feet, massive hands and startlingly long arms giving him a freakish 6ft 7in albatross-like ‘wing-span’.
He had an intimidating mental presence too.
We met at the end of a long media day and unlike all the other starry-eyed US athletes I had met, who were visibly thrilled to be on CNN, he looked like he didn’t give a monkey’s cuss.
‘I’m hoping to get more than our 20 minutes allotted time,’ I said.
‘If you ask me the same questions I’ve been getting all day, I’ll be cutting your existing time short,’ he snapped.
It was a masterful exercise in power.
Phelps knew he was the one doing ME the favour.
He did all his real talking in the pool.
Phelps lounged back in his chair, his brooding eyes boring into mine, then yawned loudly.
‘You tired or bored?’ I asked.
‘Both,’ he smirked.
Once we got going though, he sparked into life, especially when talking about swimming.
I’d heard a rumour that he’d once gone five years without a break in training. Not even for Christmas, his birthdays or Thanksgiving.
He’d supposedly spent 3-6 hours in the pool during each one of those 1825 consecutive days, plus yet more daily hours training out of it.
‘That’s right,’ he replied, when I asked if it was true.
‘Every single day?’
‘Do you know anybody else who’s ever done that?’
‘What’s the motivation for such extreme dedication?’
‘If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do. I thought that for every year, I’d get at least 52 more days training than anybody else.’
I asked him what his childhood dream had been.
‘Olympic gold medallist, world record holder, special athlete.’
‘How do you want to be remembered?’
‘Being the first Michael Phelps.’
In the end, he gave me 45 minutes and the interview has stayed with me ever since as one of the most impressive I’ve been privileged to conduct.
I often quote Phelps’ regime to lesser professional sporting mortals and their eyes pop out of their heads with incredulity.
This week, there were two moments where I had cause to recall our conversation again.
And it’s even more commendable if you win a silver or bronze medal.
But if you don’t win Gold, then you have lost, and you have also self-evidently under-achieved compared to the person who won.
We live in such a PC-crazed world now that stating this obvious fact is considered an outrage.
Yet the real outrage is surely encouraging future generations to put ‘taking part’ ahead of winning, a repellent trait which has begun to infest schools all over the world.
Our children are not allowed to be winners and losers any more. They all have to win, even when they lose.
Hence the absurd number of runners-up prizes dished out on sports days from London to Minnesota.
Can’t be hurting two-footed little Timmy’s feelings by telling him he’s useless at running, can we?
Well, yes we can actually.
We can teach two-footed little Timmy that the real challenge in sport, as in life, is to find something you’re good at, and for which you have a genuine passion, then work as hard at it as you possibly can and strive to be the absolute best at it in the world.
That’s what Phelps and Bolt did when they were young, and that’s what they have never stopped doing since.
SOURCE: Daily Mail