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covering the Unbeatable Body
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By Rick GorePhotographs by Joe McNally

Relentlessly pushing body and mind, athletes probe the limits of human performance.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

* * * * *

Author Rick Gore in an Olympic swimming tank

Midway through the fourth round my lungs begin to ache. My kick weakens, and my arms feel as if they’re moving in slow motion no matter how fast I will them to pull. The same feeling sets in earlier in the final round. With no laps to count, I lose my sense of time. With no wall ahead of me getting closer—nothing to look at and say “OK, I can get there”—I feel lost in a time warp of pain. The water feels as thick as mud. I can’t finish.

* * * * *

World Cup diving competition

Attended by a tense silence, the judges take their places alongside the diving well. One by one the divers walk to the edge of the platform and pause, gathering concentration. Then comes a slow, graceful lifting of the arms, a leap skyward, and a twisting, somersaulting dance with gravity. Less than three seconds later, like an arrow, each diver pierces the surface with barely a splash.
People love to watch this on TV, says Valerie Beddoe, top diving manager of the Australian team. “But not many want to do it. It’s hard to learn. It’s very technical. It’s scary. And it takes years to reach the elite level.” Also, as graceful as diving looks, repeatedly hitting the water at more than 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour can be brutal on the body.

* * * * *

Olympic champion Greg Louganis

“Most divers think too much about it up there,” he says. “They’re too much in their heads. I always tried to shift out of the logical side of my brain. What worked for me was humor. I remember thinking about what my mother would say if she saw me do a bomb of a dive. She’d probably just compliment me on the beautiful splash.”

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

What are the dangers of going the distance? Join the discussion.

In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

In general, only 30 percent to 40 percent of the energy your body uses actually goes to mechanical work and cellular activity. The remaining 60 percent to 70 percent is given off as heat.

The website of the United States Olympic Committee is a terrific site with pages about the athletes, the sports, and Olympics past and future. Good links for each Olympic sport.

The International Olympic Committee site is in French and English. Features information on the history of the Olympics, the IOC's museum, and links to the sites of the Sydney, Salt Lake City, and Athens Olympics.

Browse the official website of the Sydney games, in French and English.

The International Paralympic Committee’s website has pages on the history, sports, and news of the Paralympics. Very good links to Paralympic Committees of many nations and other focused-interest websites.

The Australian Institute of Sport site presents a good overview of the programs offered to Australia’s elite athletes.

Learn the latest on state-of-the-art, non-invasive research in exercise science and metabolism from the Diagnostic Radiology Department of Yale University’s School of Medicine.

McArdle, William D., Frank I. Katch, and Victor L. Katch. Exercise Physiology, fourth edition. Baltimore, Maryland, Williams and Wilkins, 1996.

Kearney, Jay T. “Training the Olympic Athlete.” Scientific American. June 1996.

Wilmore, Jack H. and David L. Costill. Physiology of Sport and Exercise, second edition. Champaign, Illinois, Human Kinetics, 1999.

Rensberger, Boyce. “How Muscles Work.” Washington Post. January 11, 1995.

“Performance to the Max.” National Geographic Traveler, April 2000, 124-129.

Incredible Voyage: Exploring the Human Body. National Geographic Books, 1998.

“Totally Gross Anatomy: Muscles.” National Geographic Educational Film/Video, 1998.

Deford, Frank. “Let the Games Begin.” National Geographic, July 1996, 42-69.


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