Watching the Olympics it’s easy to categorize every athlete as superhuman.
And while all of the Rio competitors are in a class of their own, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. Whether you’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, CrossFitter or someone just beginning their fitness journey, there’s a lot of takeaways from the best of the best if you’re willing to look.
Here are four of our favorites.
BE YOUR OWN NO. 1
Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro was ranked 141st in the world entering his matchup with No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic. It didn’t matter. Potro, who missed the past two seasons with injury, pulled off the first-round stunner. More impressive, still, was that Potro had a hectic pregame: he was reportedly trapped in an elevator for 40 minutes before being rescued by the Argentinian handball team.
Do you think anyone told Canada’s men’s volleyball team, the first team in 24 years to advance to the Olympics, that they had a chance? The Canadiens stunned Team USA (ranked fifth) despite being a 12-seed and with Monday’s win over Italy are now in the quarterfinals.
“We’re not intimidated by anybody,” Canada’s Gavin Schmitt told the media after beating Team USA. “We’re going to go at everybody. We’re here to compete.”
For American gymnast Aly Raisman, missing out on a medal in London four years ago -on a tiebreaker— was devastating. She took a year off, returning to training in 2013, despite everyone saying she wouldn’t be able to re-qualify. Not only did she return, Raisman took silver to Simone Biles in this year’s individual all-around competition.
TECHNICAL MASTERY IS THE GOAL…BUT NO ONE EVER GETS THERE.
Track star Allyson Felix , now the most decorated U.S. woman in track and field history, spends a huge portion of her training working on the starting blocks.
The sprinter, who won silver in the 400m Monday night, knows that the smallest details are what set an athlete apart.
“I am still perfecting what I do,” Felix said in a televised NBC interview prior to winning her seventh career medal.
“I am still marking up those markers [on the start]..I love to see the process, just knowing that I can be better. There’s still more left there.”
Gold-medal winning swimmer Katie Ledecky and her coach watched tapes of Michael Phelps’ stroke, studying how he moved through the water and adopting a similar style to maximize efficiency.
Ledecky is successful, in part, because of the countless hours she’s spent refining her stroke’s timing to avoid drag during the breathing phase. That stroke is still constantly under scrutiny. Watch Phelps after he gets out of the pool or is preparing for a big race. He’s frequently watching video of past swims, searching for ways to get better.
These details don’t grab headlines, but the smart athletes know they’re the reason why they’re able to have great success.
YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD, TOO BROKEN OR TOO LATE.
Jillion Potter was part of the U.S. National Rugby team in 2007 at just 16 years old and the future looked bright. But she broke her neck three years later (in 2010) in the build-up before the Women’s Rugby World Cup. During the 2014 World Cup, Potter found swelling under her jaw and discovered she had cancer later that year.
She’s now cancer-free and part of the 12-player Team USA squad for Rugby Sevens, which debuted at Rio.
Thirty-five-year-old swimmer Anthony Ervin waited 16 years in between gold medals, with a long layoff of training in between. But that’s young compared to Uzbekistan gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who is 41 and told BBC.com that she now trains “with her head.”
Canadian rower Lesley Thompson-Willie, 56, has appeared in eight Olympic games as a coxswain.
“I think it’s redefining to our society that we can keep going, as long as we’re active,” she told Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail.
NEVER, EVER GIVE UP.
Iran’s Zahra Nemati competed as an archer in Rio, which is the 31-year-old’s second sport. Nemati was a Tae kwon do competitor, but her Olympic dreams were dashed in that when she was hit by a car in 2003 and paralyzed from the waist down.
Thirteen years later, she finally got to the Olympics and accomplish the rare feat of being in both an Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. Nemati bowed out of the Olympics early, but her story is one of the most inspirational from Rio.
Armenian gymnast Houry Gebeshian decided after a great collegiate career at Iowa that she wanted to compete internationally. So the full-time physician’s assistant, who works at the Cleveland Clinic, would help deliver babies at night and squeeze in practice at all hours of the day. Gebeshian, who had no special coaching and funded nearly all of her training and trips, coached herself and made history in Rio: as the first female gymnast to represent Armenia.