Olympic athletes, no matter the era or their chosen sport, spend their entire lives training and preparing their bodies for a singular competition that will either validate all that hard work or make them look back and wonder whether they could’ve done even more to reach the medal podium.
We look to Olympians and athletes of all walks as examples of what is truly possible if our bodies are pushed and pushed to the point they are capable of astounding and revolutionary achievement. See United States Olympian Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, Russian swimmer Alexei Nemov, U.S. swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, Japanese gymnast Takashi Ono, and countless others.
But the mental fortitude required for such discipline is often overlooked as we focus on Olympians’ physical attributes and the times and distances they clock in any given event. In reality, in order to reach the Olympic stage the mind must be in simpatico with the body, and when it is, greatness is achieved and inspiration is spread across the globe.
From time to time, Olympians provide some insight and a peak into their mental preparations before, during, and after their careers, making them some of the most quotable people on the planet.
Here are 15 quotes from some of the greatest Olympians in modern history as the 2016 Rio Summer Games get underway.
1. "Life is true to form; records are meant to be broken." – Mark Spitz, U.S. swimmer
2. "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." - Muhammad Ali, U.S. boxer
3. "I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match."- Mia Hamm, U.S. women’s soccer
4. "I think sports gave me the first place where this awkward girl could feel comfortable in my own skin. I think that's true for a lot of women—sports gives you a part of your life where you can work at something and you look in the mirror and you like that person." - Teri McKeever, U.S. women’s swimming coach
5. "The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important."- Bobby Knight, U.S. men’s basketball coach
6. "The first thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else. It has to be yours." – Peggy Fleming, U.S. women’s figure skater
7. "Never put an age limit on your dreams." – Dara Torres, U.S. women’s swimmer
8. "We have the can-do factor, and us doing what we do I think inspires people to just try that little bit harder, whether they are able-bodied or disabled." - Lee Pearson, British para-equestrian
9. “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” - Jesse Owens, U.S. men’s track and field
10. “You have to do something in your life that is honorable and not cowardly if you are to live in peace with yourself." - Larry Brown, U.S. men’s basketball coach
11. “Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle!” – Sanya Richards-Ross, U.S. women’s track and field
12. “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” – Wilma Rudolph, U.S. women’s track and field
13. “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.” - Herb Brooks, U.S. men’s ice hockey coach
14. "A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning." - Billie Jean King, U.S. women’s tennis coach
15. "Don't put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get."- Michael Phelps, U.S. men’s swimming