Stuff of greatness-A A +A
Friday, August 10, 2012
ON Aug. 5, 2012, swimmer Michael Phelps earned his 22nd and final Olympic medal as part of the United States’ 400-meter medley relay. On the same day, FINA, the international governing body of swimming, gave him a statue with the inscription, "The Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time."
Phelps had reached the summit of an illustrious sports career, having earned eight medals in Athens–-6 gold medals, 2 bronze medals-–as a teenager (19 years old) in 2004; eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008; and six more in London–-4 gold medals, 2 silver medals.
While finishing the final lap in the 400-meter medley relay would be “the Kodak moment,” Phelps gave the world a more memorable image: as he stepped into the stands, he embraced his white-haired coach for 15 years, Bob Bowman, telling him, “I love you….We did it.”
What makes you great is not just doing your personal best; it is also in acknowledging those who helped you along the way. While belief in yourself is key to success, someone’s belief in you drives you to reach greater heights. Albert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
While one’s performance during a competition is what earns medals, what makes some sporting heroes legends are what they do with their lives off the limelight, or what they do with their lives after reaching the pinnacle of success.
Though reality television seems to have changed people into thinking that notoriety or obnoxiousness is the stuff that makes famous people (like the Kardashians), that is not true really. These celebrities may not have realized that they have become nothing more than commodities that, through time, will be discarded and forgotten.
Squeezed of their privacies, they expose themselves as “famous being famous,” achieving nothing but temporary fame and short-lived luxuries.
While New Zealander Edmund Hillary, together with Tenzing Norgay, reached the height of success by climbing to the top of Mount Everest in 1953, the former used his popularity to do philanthropic endeavors and other expeditions that tested not just physical endurance but more importantly human courage. Hillary is a legend in New Zealand.
The athletic greatness of Phelps was seen in the water, but his greatness in character was shown that day outside the pool. And it is likely he will achieve greater things. Asked about what his plans are for the future, Phelps replied, “It’s just time to move on. There are other things I want to do in my life. I’m not sure staring at a black line for four hours a day is one of them.” Take a bow, Michael.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 11, 2012.