Saturday, August 16, 2008

Owning The Place

Last night, I watched Phelps beat an incredibly competitive field of swimmers in the 100m breast stroke by one one-hundredths of a second to win his 7th gold medal at this Olympic games.

It was absolutely incredible to watch. He passed the leader at the last possible second by simply hurling himself into the wall. Most swimmers take one last stroke and then stretch for the wall. This time, Michael tossed stretching for the wall out the window, took an extra stroke and literally slammed his hand into the wall one one-hundredth of a second faster than the guy next to him.

Stunning. Brilliant. Everything we've come to expect from Michael Phelps.

What I found interesting, though, was his interview directly after the race. The peppy female journalist shoved a mike in his face, congratulated him on yet another win, and then asked the following question: "Did you ever believe, when you first came into these games, that you would be able to dominate all these races and win seven golds?"

Phelps responded with: "I knew if the conditions were right and everything lined up, I could do this."

I rolled my eyes. Not at Phelps. At the woman for asking such a clearly ridiculous question. I mean, has she actually seen Phelps swim?? If so, she should know the answer is undeniably: "Yes."

And not because of his phenomenal natural ability either.

Phelps is a fierce competitor, a dominating force in the water, because he refuses to be anything less. He demands the utmost his body can give him and when he achieves it, he pushes for more. I guarantee he didn't approach these Olympics with the hope that he could win. He walked in the door of the Aquatic Center confident that he owned the place.

There's no doubt that Phelps has incredible natural ability but he doesn't rest his confidence on that. Great athletes are forged out of discipline, persistence, passion, and a willingness to endure what would make a lesser man quit.

Sounds a lot like what it takes to be a published author. Or an acclaimed actor. Or sculptor, painter, poet, singer...the list goes on. Art begins as a spark of natural ability but the artist must fan that spark into a passion that refuses to accept silver when gold is on the table.

Artists who want to forge themselves into a master of their craft must demand what their talent can give them, and then push for more. They must exercise discipline, persistence, passion, and a willingness to endure what would make a another artist quit.

Phelps doesn't just swim. He is swimming because he refuses to be anything less.


  1. ... and an artist must be willing and able to deftly handle the line of idiotic questions and reactions s/he will undoubtedly endure along the way. (ie: "Did you think you could win?")

    I, too, stayed up screaming into the couch cushions to watch Phelps carve his name deeper into the stone last night. In fact, I called my friend Mel (of who wrote a wonderful couple of posts about the Oly's). You should know she picked up the phone with no greeting other than a whimpering, "Why's he hafta make it so SCAAARYYY?"
    Here here CJ. More more-- I love this line of thinking!

  2. Hi, C.J.! It was terribly exciting to watch, I agree. :) This guy just refuses to give up. He has that something extra that nothing in the world can give you except you: determination. Love it!

  3. Michael Phleps is indeed incredible. And he is incredible so effortlessly that he is a wonder to watch. And what was more incredible is that he handled that question--which must have been secretly disappointing to him--with such grace.

    As (what I hope is) an artist myself, I can only hope to answer as diplomatically and kindly as Phelps. I've never believed I won't be published. I always speak in terms of "when" rather than "if". Thankfully, I'm an eternal optimist. I'm not a financial aid advisor who writes on the side; I'm a writer who is a financial aid advisor to pay the bills. Writing oozes from every pore, flavors every breath. I'm convinced that real writers (not those who dabble in writing) have an extra set of chromosones--the writing chromosones--that make us what we are: wordsmiths who eat, breathe, and sleep language. Rejection doesn't matter (and I've garnered my share recently). Being what my soul truly is--that's the most important thing.

  4. Awesome post! Unfortunately, I'm not watching the Olympics (because I don't watch television), so I'll have to get my info from everyone else (like Sio, you, the people who live with me).

    I LOVE your statement on the artist! It's so true! =)


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