Friday, December 12, 2008

Words are words, promises are promises, but only performance is reality

Came across an excerpt from Michael Phelps' new autobiography -- No Limits: The Will to Succeed -- in today's Guardian newspaper in London.

Here's a particularly good passage:

A jumble of emotions washed over and around me after winning my eighth gold.

I knew I would find my coach and long-time mentor, Bob Bowman, around the pool deck. He had trained me, punished me, motivated me, inspired me, and proven to me the connection between hard work and success.

Bob's philosophy is rather simple: We do the things other people can't, or won't, do.

Bob's expectations are simple, too. It's like the quote he had up on the whiteboard one day at practice a few months before the Games. It comes from a business book but in sports it's the same:

"Words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality."

Bob is exquisitely demanding. But it is with him that I learned this essential truth: Nothing is impossible.

The morning of my last race in Beijing, the 400m medley relay, the Water Cube was so jam-packed. I was more than fired up.

I'd gotten a text message that morning from back home, from Troy Pusateri. When I was just starting out at North Baltimore, Troy was one of the older boys; he used to call me "Little Phelps."

Troy was always mentally tough, too; he went on to become a Navy SEAL. Of all the messages I got from home during the course of the 2008 Olympics, Troy's is the only one I saved so that I could read it afterwards, get fired way, way up time and again. This is what it said:

"All right, brother man!! Last race!! This one is NOT for you ... it's for your fans, like me, who you inspired every day for the past six years ... it's for Bob and your mom ... for without them none of this would be possible ... it's for the United States ... the best damn country on the face of the earth ... it's for history!! It's for you making this sport what it is today!! It's for all the 215 people who talked smack and doubted you ever!! It's for being the best Olympic athlete ever to grace this planet!!! Go get 'em!! Don't hold back!! You can do it, buddy!! I'm so damn proud of ya!! Give 'em hellllllllll!!!!!"

In the 17th of my 17 swims, the third leg of the relay, I laid down the fastest 100 fly leg in history, 50.15. I gave it everything I had. Everything.