On a broken knee a gymnast competes. An obsessed wrestler keeps his rival’s picture in his locker, his home, his wallet. A runner races till he falls unconscious.
These are not normal people. These are the Olympians. These are people like John Naber, old-time backstroke specialist from the 1970s, who – as rower Steve Redgrave revealed in his book, Inspired – works out that he needs to improve by four seconds in four years to win the 100m gold.
Four seconds is huge in a world judged on fractions so he reduces his life to fractions. He breaks his life into months, days, hours and calculates he must improve by 1/1,200th of a second every successive training hour. In four years he wins four Olympic golds.
How do you beat these kind of people? How does Joseph Schooling? Through work but also confidence. By standing on the blocks in five months in Rio and believing he can outswim the greatest swimmer the earth has found. Yes, him, Phelps.
It’s scary, it’s crazy, it’s fantastic. It’s also why I like the way Schooling talks – with that little swagger of the young athlete trying to hide his nervousness and conceal his doubt and stake his place in a hard world.
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