Four-hundreths of a second. That was the difference between winning an Olympic gold medal and second place. I was one of the millions of TV viewers around the world watching the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, where Phelps won his very first medal in the 400-meter IM (individual medley). Watching Phelps swim is exciting enough, but I wanted to read his biography to find out how Phelps came to be one of the greatest swimmers of all time.
Don't worry if you're not a sports fan. While the book includes stats, training routines, and numerous details about his swimming races, it also shares a behind-the-scenes look at his childhood and his family life. Phelps dedicates an entire chapter to discuss his rocky relationship with his swim coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman's strict, no nonsense approach often clashed with Michael's freer style ("Michael, I don't care if you don't like it, and I really don't care if you like me..."). Phelps credits Bowman for keeping him focused on the gold, giving him effective training tips to improve his time, like swimming with arms only, or legs only, or even swimming in sneakers!
"I just don't see him being able to focus on anything in his life." - prediction from one of Phelps' school teachers (how wrong she turned out to be!)
The odds seemed stacked against Phelps from the beginning. In his own words, Michael was "the kid who couldn't focus, had big ears, watched his parents split up, saw his sister struggle, and couldn't go more than two minutes without arguing with his coach." Even his firmst swimming lesson was a disaster. You'd would think that the first day of swimming lessons that Phelps would swim like a dolphin. Especially since his older sisters, Whitney and Hilary, were already champion athletes in the water. Not true. He HATED it! Phelps didn't even want to get his face wet.
"I love it when people tell me I can't do something, because it fires me up to prove them wrong." - Michael Phelps, Chapter 23. (p. 203)
Many readers will be able to relate to the fear and frustration he felt and the sacrifices Phelps had to make to get to World Championships in Barcelona and to the Olympic games in Athens (2004). Beijing (2008) and London (2012). I also appreciate the fact that Phelps addresses rumors people may have heard or read about him, including the DUI in Greece (Chap. 23). I only wish that the book had included more photos like his 2009 biography, No Limits: The Will to Succeed. Overall, an interesting read.
I also recommend Going for the Gold,
a biography about Olympic speed skater Apolo Anto Ohno or Venus and Serena Williams: Grand Slam Sisters
(see links below).