To be the absolute best in the world--it's a dream that drives Olympic
hopefuls around the world. Every kid swimming her first 100-meter
freestyle or kicking his first shot into the goal imagines a gold medal
hanging around his or her neck. If you have superb genetic qualifications,
possess incredible mental and physical strength and can commit
to years of grueling training and tough competition, you just might
see your country's flag rising above the podium one day.
Pick a sport. You have two paths--go with a sport you know and like, or pick an obscure one. A familiar sport may seem like an obvious choice, but think carefully--popular sports have millions of dedicated participants, and competition is stiff. Less wellknown options, such as short-track speed skating, luge, bobsledding and pentathlon, have fewer competitors.
Evaluate your physique and choose a sport that suits it. No matter how dedicated you are, unless you have the physical makeup for extreme endurance, you'll never be an Olympic marathoner. And if you're tall and over the age of 16, kiss gymnastics goodbye. Consult a sports physiologist to establish your specific attributes.
Spend years and years working at your sport. Develop all aspects of fitness, strength and endurance. Incorporate crosstraining into your regime to prevent boredom and injury.
Believe in yourself. Have your mental game ready, be tough in every aspect, refuse to give up.
Attend a sports academy. These schools provide intensive training in the sport of your choice at the high-school level. The experience, exposure and coaching that you get will qualify you for a college that excels in your sport.
Work with excellent coaches to develop your skills. Hire a sports psychologist to help you set and reach goals. Hire a private coach if needed. See 16 Set Goals.
Make the national team in your sport and train year-round (there is no off-season for an Olympian). Be able to perform well under incredible pressure and fend off all other competitors until you make the Olympic team.
Change your citizenship. It may be much easier to qualify for a spot on the Pakistani sailing team than on the U.S. team. Some countries ask for proof of ancestry, such as a grandparent born in the country.
Tips & Warnings
- Just because you're past your 20s, doesn't mean you can't go for the gold. Some sports, such as archery, curling and sailing, include competitors of many ages.
- Go to a university that consistently wins the NCAA championships in your sport. You may get a scholarship as a bonus.
- Join the association or governing body for your sport. This will keep you informed of major competitions, including the Olympic trials.
- Move to an area that is well known for your sport. If you're a ski racer, for example, live in a major ski town with an active racing scene. Colorado is a mecca for bike racers.
- See 488 Train for a Major Athletic Event, 489 Win the Tour de France and 490 Run a Marathon.
- In the past, only amateur athletes could compete. This is no longer the case, as was evidenced by the NBAstaffed Dream Team of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
- If you change nationality, International Olympic Committee rules prevent you from competing in international events for three years.
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