The Greatest Olympians Have Tough Pasts
True champions never give in even when they are faced with adversity
Greatness decides what I decide is my favorite sport in the Olympics every four years.
And that greatness is the sport that presents to me the most interesting person that wins or competes at the Olympic Games.
Because behind every Olympic sport is a winner. And behind every winner is a story. It’s the same for every competitor there. They all come from somewhere and they all have a tale to tell.
I`m not only talking about the country that they represent or the sport that they compete in, but it’s the energy they’ve spent to get that far.
To me, the colors on the singlet that they wear or the skin that they are born with is just the facade.
What’s more important is their background they have and the road they traveled to get there.
For example, take Eric Moussambani Malonga from Equatorial Guinea.
Malonga represented his country in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Nicknamed Eric the Ell, he wasn’t the most natural of swimmers.
In fact, he never swam in high competition before the games commenced.
But as Equatorial Guinea was under the Olympic developmental program his country was given a wildcard to have swimmers compete in the games. And Eric had by chance been listening to the radio earlier that year and there was an advertisement for people to try out for his country’s Olympic swimming team.
So Eric turned up for the trial and he was the only one there. And by default, he had now made the Olympic team for Sydney.
When he got to the Olympic Games he had to swim in a heat against other swimmers to make it to the next round. Fellow competitors Karim Bare, of Nigeria, and Farkhod Oripov, of Tajikistan fell off the starting blocks and that meant they were disqualified from the heat.
That left Eric who had to swim the heat alone.
Eric got pumped up and started the heat with great pace. But soon after his limbs were shot of power. His pace slowed so much that the 17,500 crowd at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre ignited and roared him on to the end of the race.
In the last 25 meters of the race, he was barely able to get to the finish line.
But he got there.
But another Olympian that was at the same Olympic Games and threaded the very same water as the eel was a young fifteen-year-old American named Michael Phelps.
He had one thing in common with Malonga in that Olympic Games, in that he too had never won an Olympic medal.
But, unlike Malonga, he had a very different background.
Born in the United States of America he was the only boy in his family. His parents separated and he lived with his sisters Hilary and Whitney and his mother Deborah. But the absence of his father was not the only thing that gave him a disadvantage.
Because Phelps had Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And because of this, when he was young he didn’t have it easy.
In school, his teacher told his mother that he couldn’t focus. They believed that he wouldn’t achieve because he was distractible.
He couldn’t concentrate on math.
He often pulled at his classmates’ papers and found it difficult to be still.
They gave him the sports pages to read. And his mother fought for him to be given opportunities.
She told Michael that sportsmanship was just as important as winning and that there were consequences to the behavior that you showed.
Michael trained hard and kept his training routine and before long he insisted that he didn’t have to take the medication that he was given and with this structure, he did well in life. But even at swimming meets he would get frustrated at times. That’s when his mother would be in the stand and made the letter “C” with her hands because she wanted Michael to know that he needed to re-focus and have composure.
But Phelps proved all his doubters wrong.
He went on to become the most successful Olympian of all-time winning 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.
So although Eric the eel came from nowhere and fought the water in the pool, Phelps fought the inconsistency of his brain. They both had major challenges.
And they were both Olympians.
And being an Olympian is about taking part and recognizing the struggle.
Although Eric the eel was a loser and Michael was a multiple winner they both defined the Olympic spirit. Without them we’d not know that they were from different worlds, had different ability ranges, had different skin colors, but both showed their struggle and kept on going.
So for me every four years I watch the Olympics to learn from all the athletes there. Even though I love many sports, it’s the characters I love to learn from and how they got there.
I want to see how their story has not only led them there but how it will help or hinder them as they perform under pressure.