Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Usain Bolt…what makes them special?
Many Americans have stayed up late over the last two-weeks watching live event coverage of the Olympics from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. As a sports fan it’s like binge watching your favorite tv show for 14 straight days, exhilarating and exhausting all in one!
Each Olympics has their own heroes (Simone Biles) and villains (Ryan Lochte…nuff said). But occasionally we get to see something special, Like a 42 year old (now 43) mom Kristin Armstrong, who fought back from multiple surgeries and moments after crossing the
finish line for the gold collapsed, only to be comforted by her young son. You can’t make that up, no hollywood script could have been better written and no musical score could have made that moment more dramatic!
If we’re lucky, however, we get to see greatness. Athletes who are so dominate, so incredible that they transcend their sport. They become the thing of legend. During this Olympics there were three such athletes. Each of them winning gold in multiple Olympics and each ones performance so dominating that when they performed it was hard to look away.
Katie Ledecky won her first gold medal in 2012 at the age of…15! Can you believe that?! Can’t even drive yet and she’s whoopin’ on the best swimmers in the world. This year her swims were so dominate that she could have probably had a 44oz big gulp down before second place finished! She won a total of 5 Golds and one Silver, and became the first woman to win a gold in the 200, 400, and 800 meter races in the same Olympics.
Usain Bolt is another legend, but his greatness has extended over 3 Olympics. He is not only regarded as the fastest man ever timed, but he is also the only person to ever win the 100, 200, and 4×100 in three straight Olympics! No one has ever done it in back to back Olympics, much less three in a row. He has figured out a way to sustain greatness over a significant period of time on the largest stage in the world!
Finally, there is Michael Phelps, love him or hate him, he’s the best that’s ever been! Phelps has been swimming on the Olympic stage for 4 Olympics…that’s astounding in any sport, and especially a sport where the young ones are almost always dominant. Phelps has said that this was his last, but it wasn’t his least, he still won 5 Golds and 1 silver and showed very little drop off in dominance. Overall, Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them being gold. Additionally, he’s won gold in multiple strokes and multiple lengths. In a sport where specialization is king, it’s almost unheard of.
So, what makes these three so…special, so dominant, so legendary? Well, obviously their DNA has something to do with it. They were gifted with great natural ability, but my guess is that’s true of anyone that makes it to the Olympics. What sets them apart? I believe it is two things:
- First, each of them is notorious for their training regimen. If we did in a week what they do each day, I think we’d die! They have learned that putting in the time, energy, and effort when no one is watching means that when everyone is watching they’ll perform their best. Under Armour has done an incredible commercial specifically focusing on Phelps and gives you a glimpse of what I’m talking about, you should check it out: Phelps Under Armour Commercial
- Second, none of them are willing to set limits on what they can do. They don’t see boundaries, they don’t think in terms of what is possible. Ledecky has famously said, “I just like to swim fast, I don’t think about the distance”. Bolt has said on multiple occasions, “I don’t think limits.” And Phelps, well he actually wrote a book entitled No Limits, The Will To Succeed.
These athletes can teach us something about life and our walk with Christ. Often times we see the fanfare that others receive and we get jealous. But, what we don’t see is all the hard work, the behind the scenes effort that got them there. If you want to succeed in life and grow stronger as a follower of Christ, you’ve got to be willing to do what’s necessary without the accolades or audience. You’ve got to spend time just you and God, sometimes early in the morning and other late at night. Sometimes is joyful communion while other times it’s painful intercession. It’s in the moments when no one is watching that the strength of your character is forged, that the foundation of your soul is laid.
I also think it’s important for us to begin to remove all of our self-imposed limitations. Stop saying what you can’t do and start doing what you can. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you just start moving towards your goal. Stop whining and complaining about how others have it easier, you don’t know that! You don’t know what their quiet struggles are, what their times in the dark are like. As the Apostle Paul says so eloquently, “Run the race set before you!” Don’t look at others, look ahead at what God has for you!