By Chuck Warner//Special Contributor
This is the fifth in a series of themes that we discovered in the research and writing of the book …And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence, a highly acclaimed book by swimming leaders around the world. It is written for swimmers, coaches and parents to learn the steps to swimming excellence.
The book chronicles the development of eight great swimmers that collectively won 28 Olympic Gold Medals, in all four of the swimming strokes and most distances. Their careers are chronicled from their start in swimming in summer leagues to working their way to the top of the Olympic podium.
The swimmers are: Matt Biondi, Dave Berkoff, Mike Barrowman, Josh Davis, Lenny Krayzelburg, Ian Crocker, Grant Hackett and Aaron Peirsol.
…And Then They Won Gold, Theme V: Hard Work
There are many factors that Olympic champions grow from: talent, opportunity, competitiveness, self-image and self-reliance are some of the most critical. But none is more critical than plain old hard work. In the eight short biographies of the athletes in …And Then They Won Gold, there are many different time tables for when that hard work began and how it was conducted. Here is a summary of some of the factors.
When: Each of our eight Olympic champions was on their own time table of hard work. From as young as thirteen to as old as a sophomore in college they made a decision to train very hard.
How Often: During the years immediately prior to achieving Olympic success each athlete trained 9 practices or more per week.
How Far: The range per week during the hardest weeks of the year was from about 45,000 meters to about 75,000 meters. Grant Hackett, the greatest distance swimmer in history didn’t necessarily train the longest. For several years, backstroke king Lenny Krayzelburg had that distinction.
Training Partners: Most of the athletes had good training environments in their years leading up to their first Olympics. This included good training partners most of the time, but not always. Occasionally the coach and clock became the only standard to measure hard work.
One of America’s true sprint successes was 100-meter butterfly world record-holder and three-time Olympic gold medal winner Ian Crocker. Despite his talent for speed, there were times in high school when he did massive amounts of work, especially during the winter breaks. This included 20x200s butterfly. Here is an excerpt from ...And Then They Won Gold during his sophomore year of high school:
During the holidays in December of 1997, a Canadian team came down for a short training camp with the Porpoise team’s older swimmers. The combined group was able to use the Riverton pool, which meant 25-meter training as well as the use of starting blocks and six lanes with lane-lines! It was a glorious upgrade from the Reiche pool. For an extra challenge, the group tackled 100 x 100s. After the long and difficult set there remained 40 minutes in the extended three-hour practice.
“Good job everyone!” Coach Powers affirmed. “We have 40 minutes remaining and we’re going to do some easy swimming as a recovery from that great set.”
“Sharon, how about if I do a ‘get out’ swim?” Ian proposed.
Sharon consulted with the visiting coach. Then she asked Ian, “What do you have in mind?”
“How ’bout we cut that warm-down in half if I better a certain time?” Ian asked.
Sharon consulted again with the visiting coach. “Under 53 for 100 meters.”
“But that’s like 47 in a 100-yard free!” Ian argued.
The coaches stood their ground. The team moved out of the center lane and began slapping kick boards on the water and cheering in support of Ian. He got out of the pool and shook his hands to loosen up his forearms. He adjusted his goggles. The coaches cleared their watches. Ian stepped up on the block.
“Take your mark!” Sharon commanded. “Go!”
With the prospect of getting out of practice 20 minutes early, the two teams cheered madly. Ian raced against time. He loved this sort of challenge. When he touched the wall every swimmer was silent in anticipation. Did he make it?
The Canadian coach and Sharon compared watches. The Canadian coach yelled, “51.6!” The teams went crazy. It may have been a dark, cold December day in Maine, but in that moment Ian Crocker was a hero in the swimming pool.
Ian Crocker made his first Olympic team as a senior in high school. It was the first time a swimmer from the state of Maine ever made an Olympic team. At 17-years old, he was a part of the USA gold medal 400 medley relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
For more excerpts, check out Theme I, Theme II, Theme III, Theme IV.
For more information or to order …And Then They Won Gold, go to www.areteswim.com (access Books * Media), Swimming World Magazine or the American Swimming Coaches Association. The author is Chuck Warner, who has also written the highly regarded book Four Champions, One Gold Medal, the story of the preparation and race for the gold medal in the 1500-meter freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.