While following the action of the Summer Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro this week, I heard an astounding fact regarding America’s most decorated Olympian, Michael Phelps.  At the moment, Phelps has collectively won 21 Olympic gold medals in his career, and he has the possibility of adding to his collection with some upcoming events.

According to USA Today, he now possesses more Olympic gold medals than 108 countries have won in the history of their participation in the Summer Olympics, including both individual and team events.  The 25 total Olympic medals that Phelps has won is more than 91 countries have ever won at the Summer Olympics.  These numbers are remarkable, and they led me to reflect on what makes Michael Phelps such an extraordinary athlete and statistically the greatest Olympian of all time.  It really seems to boil down to two words:  commitment and consistency.

There is no doubt that Michael Phelps has some natural talents and physical advantages and that allow him to thrive in a swimming pool.  However, what really sets Phelps apart from the other world class athletes that he competes against is his commitment to winning and his ability to consistently perform over long periods of time.  Phelps began competing in the Olympics as a fifteen-year-old in 2000, and he has spent the better part of the last two decades putting in thousands of hours of intense, demanding training both in and out of the pool.  At his peak in 2008, he would train from five to seven hours a day.

Now that he is in his thirties, he gives his body more recovery time by training fewer hours a day, but his training routines remain just as strenuous as they’ve always been.  He also continues to consume an enormous amount of calories with a diet rich in carbohydrates and proteins, which is what his body needs to meet the demands of his physical regimen.  After briefly retiring following the 2012 Olympics, Phelps recommitted himself to competitive swimming and regained his passion, and it is this desire to be the best and his consistency in preparation and performance that has allowed him to once again reach the pinnacle of his sport.

Michael Phelps’ commitment to excellence and consistent drive to be the best has led him back to the podium in his fifth Olympic Games.  We can learn much from his example.  We are all born with certain physical attributes, mental capacities, talents, and limitations.  These are often beyond our control.  However, one thing that we all have within our control is the ability to consistently apply the gifts that we do have and to commit ourselves to becoming the best we can be in whatever we do.  Persistence, perseverance, desire, determination, and tenacity are qualities we can cultivate within ourselves, and each is entirely within our control.  These are the qualities needed to become an Olympic great, and they are the qualities we need to become the best versions of ourselves.  So what are you waiting for?  Unleash your inner Olympian.

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