[dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]F[/dropcap]rom Michael Jordan to Babe Ruth, legendary athletes are seen in every sport, whether it’s football, soccer or cricket. They aren’t only an inspiration to others, but they essentially begin to represent their teams, their names becoming synonymous with their sport itself.
In swimming, this athletic inspiration is none other than Michael Phelps, the most decorated and perhaps recognized Olympian in history. His legacy, however, has done much more than inspire swimmers; it has created an explosion in the swimming world, driving thousands of people to get involved in the sport.
“A big part of my swimming career was seeing Michael Phelps perform. My sister, [junior Elinor Stanley], started swimming before me and she kinda dragged me into it, but after seeing Michael Phelps compete it definitely gave me a boost to do it,” junior Liam Stanley, a RBHS swimmer, said. “It’s hard not to take pride in a sport when legends like Michael Phelps bring attention to it.”
Stanley is one of millions of high school students who have become swimmers, motivated by Phelps and his legacy. This phenomenon is known as the “Michael Phelps effect,” which gained attention after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. According to swimswam.com, boys’ swimming and diving has felt the strongest influence from the Effect, growing a total of 23.66 percent after the 2007-08 season.
“In the swimming world, we call it the ‘Olympic Bump;’ every four years we see a dramatic increase in the number of kids who enter the sport,” Zach Mertens, head coach of the RBHS boys’ and girls’ swim teams, said. “Qualifying times, records, and times to score at high level meets tend to decrease the most in the year before and the year after an Olympic year. The performances of Michael Phelps have made the Olympic Bumps of late larger than normal, but usually, the effects of the Olympic Bumps are greatest two cycles after each Olympics as swimmers begin to grow up within the programs.”
Phelps’ career has plenty of bright moments which have incentivized swimmers. Although junior Ryan Gilbert didn’t begin swimming because of Phelps, he understands why someone would. At a young age, Gilbert marvelled at the sight of Olympic swimmers like Phelps compete, and has always dreamed of reaching their level.
“When I was younger, especially during the 2008 Olympics, watching Phelps was awe-inspiring. I think for a lot of young kids, watching these Olympians set world records is unforgettable,” Gilbert said. “It’s safe to say that I was definitely inspired by not only Phelps, but by many other Olympic swimmers as well. When you’re younger there’s so many open doors, you feel like you can do anything; you feel like you can be just like Phelps, Lochte or whoever you look up to.”[pullquote align=”right”]“Things I may not have thought were possible become possible, and a key part of doing that is the strength you get from embracing the idea that anything can be done.” Liam Stanley, junior[/pullquote]
When it comes to Phelps, however, his domination in competition isn’t the only inspiring aspect of his career; his extreme dedication, mental toughness and relentless work ethic — all seen in his training regimen — are also remarkable in the eyes of many, and for good reason. Before the 2008 Olympics, Phelps reportedly trained for six hours a day, swam a minimum of 50 miles a week and consistently trained with weights; in fact, his training regimen was so intense that he needed to consume 12,000 calories a day to fully recover.
“There is a certain ‘shock and awe’ that comes into play when swimmers realize what sort of training schedule he kept and what his meets looked like,” Mertens said. “His intensity in preparation and competition, along with the rigor of his challenges, has inspired a large portion of the swimming community to aspire to a ‘toughness’ that often transcends the physical realities of the sport.”
For Stanley, that “toughness” which Phelps displayed throughout his career has helped him improve his own mentality as a swimmer; he thinks like a competitor during meets, and the inspiration he found in Phelps was a big factor in helping him become a tougher athlete.
“Whenever a hard practice is in front of me, or it seems like I’ll never get as fast as I want, I think about the barriers Michael Phelps has broken and it pushes me to my maximum potential,” Stanley said. “At the end of the day, things I may not have thought were possible become possible, and a key part of doing that is the strength you get from embracing the idea that anything can be done. People like Michael Phelps are a source of that strength.”
Phelps announced his retirement after the conclusion of the 2016 Olympics. Although many were sad to see him go, his impact on the swimming community was enormous, and ignited a fervent fire within athletes like Stanley. That flame, Stanley believes, will never be extinguished.
“I’ve had my ups and downs with swimming like anyone has in any sport,” Stanley said. “But when I see [Phelps] shatter some world record or win gold at the Olympics, it makes me try just that little bit harder during a race or tough set; and sometimes, that little push is enough to get me to where I want to be.”
How did Michael Phelps impact you? Let us know in the comments below.