I just read an article by Forbes called How to Train like an Olympian. You can imagine how much this perked my interest. Forbes? Olympic training? Is this a "Lifestyles of the Rich and Gold Medalled?"
No, this is an article that presumes to give a quick breakdown of the key differences between how an Olympian trains and how everybody else trains. And it kind of succeeds, even if it has some inane comments, like,
"It's not just that most Olympians are born with a certain set of physiological gifts, although that's a big part of it. It's also their commitment to their sports and, perhaps most important, the way they train." (italics mine)
Yes, it seems training does matter. Surprise!
Actually, this article does hit a few good points. While its list of training behaviors is far from exhaustive, it does bring out the fact that stumbling into the Olympics Andrew Wheating-style is incredibly rare.
But perhaps the one thing I was looking for that wasn't brought up is the risk factor. Like any good finance magazine article should, the topic of opportunity cost of training is brought up. And those opportunity costs can be severe. Peter Gilmore, for example, has a masters in finance and could be making plenty of money right now, but he's still living the dream.
But what didn't get brought up is that the odds of making the team are so low that all the hard work simply doesn't pay off with specific regard to the Olympics. Athletes are giving up everything for a chance. That's it. And in some events, like the sprints in America or the distances in Ethiopia, it's a very slim chance indeed. There are hundreds of athletes sitting at home right now wondering whether their last four years were spent the right way.
Which would lead me to my first principle for how to train like an Olympian: don't do it simply to be an Olympian. Do it because you love it and you love the challenge of pushing yourself to your limits. Do it because you need to, because you don't feel right not doing it. But don't do it simply to try and go to the Olympics. That kind of motivation simply can't sustain the amount of work that needs to be put in.