- 18 Aug 08, 04:08 PM
Michael Phelps hasn't had a normal life since he was eleven years old.
He's spent most of his free time back home in Baltimore training and pounding the swimming lanes, all with the aim of becoming the best swimmer the world has ever known.
And now, after an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, he is certainly that.
But at what expense?
Forsaking fun and frolics and possibly even potential friendships, it's been reported that a young Phelps wouldn't go tobogganing and bowling with his school colleagues in case he injured himself.
It must now all seem worthwhile, and at least he had eleven years of a childhood before dedicating himself to the single minded existence of a sportsman.
Some don't have that long.
At Central Beijing's Shichahai Sports School, six year old boys live in dormitories and train in underground gymnasiums, perfecting the skills that are designed to make them champion gymnasts of the future.
Some will succeed, but most will fail.
China is not unique in adopting talent identification schemes and using incessant training, drills and practice to manufacture champions, but most don't do it with such single minded zeal.
There are many more across the globe, but presumably not many of them are as focussed on the extremely young as they are in China.
Many countries use sports science to examine, analyse and improve the performance of their athletes.
Without sports science, the odds of making it to the top of the pile are greatly diminished, and many countries, China included, just aren't willing to leave anything to chance.
In the past few years, China has far outstripped any other country in money invested in athlete development. $8bn no less. The return is obvious to see in the results here at Beijing 2008.
Having undergone some very basic physiological tests myself at St Mary's University College in London, I learnt some fascinating facts.
Did you know that human athletic performance peaks after just four seconds?
After that it's downhill all the way. For me, the graph dipped dramatically and frighteningly quickly (note to self, must eat more veg and carbs!), but even for professional athletes there is a continuous dip in the performance graph after four seconds, but obviously given their fitness levels the dip is more gradual.
On Wednesday's My Games, we'll be looking at sports science and talent identification, so we'd like to know what you think.
Is it fair that a six-year-old should have to live the monastic life of a professional athlete?
Would you, like Phelps, be prepared to give up your teenage years to endless hours of training? Does sports science give the richer countries an unfair advantage over those who can't afford to invest as much?
Who knows how long some of the Chinese competitors have been training for their big day? Five years? 10? 15? Many of them are champions, but what price would you pay to be one?
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