Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ian Thorpe: “Because of this thing called competition”

That is the quote from Ian Thorpe, former Australian Olympic swimmer and world record holder when asked if Michael Phelps could win 8 Gold Medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Thorpe is betting against Phelps. In this Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle sports section, noted columnist Scott Ostler posed the question about whether it is reasonable to expect that Phelps could actually pull off the feat.

The US Swimming Olympic Trials began today in at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The top 2 finishers in each event qualify for the Olympic Team in each event. Consider that less than half of the one percent of the swimmers in the country even qualify for the Olympic Trials. You must then finish 1st or 2nd to swim the individual event. (In the 100 and 200 freestyle the top 4 make the relay and the 5th and 6th finishers typically are taken as alternates to swim the prelims of the relays at the Games themselves).

Phelps appears to "own" the 400 Individual Medley and the 200 Butterfly, though nothing is for certain. The other events he competes in have multiple challengers that pose a real threat to his even making our team in the various events. And then he needs to be selected to the relays based upon his performance as well.

In golf not long ago, Tiger Woods ruled the world. Many of his contemporaries began playing for second. If Tiger was "on" he was unbeatable. However, golf, like swimming, has many competitive people in its ranks and the one thing history teaches us is that it is much easier to win a championship than to defend one.

When Woods, or Phelps, or Roger Federer win consistently it actually motivates many in their sport, pushes them to places they have not been and thereby changes the landscape - forever; as did Woods, Phelps and Federer when they came up into the championship ranks...and so it goes.

Some people say that competition isn't healthy; that it puts too much pressure on others; that it destroys the purity of the game. Our view is that competition, when entered into in a spirit of willingness, a spirit of genuine love of the game, brings out the best in each of us. It increases our appreciation of our sport and our place in it.

Whether I am a weekend warrior, an up and coming Olympic hopeful or world champion the benefits are the same. I find out what matters to me; how to perform under some scrutiny and where my personal limits are.

We suggest that you go to the pool soon and push yourself a little and see what your reaction to that is. Let us know and tell us how we can help!

(Olympic Trial coverage is on the web and on TV all week long. Check your local listings for details.)

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