The Making of an Olympian

Most of us never give a passing thought to what it takes to compete in the Olympics. For others, it’s a dream. And for a rare few -- those who dedicate themselves entirely to their sport and to a gruelling training schedule -- it’s a reality. Champion decathlete Dean Macey, owner of Essex-based Dean Macey Fitness, placed fourth at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and took home the gold medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He told Men’s Life Today exactly what it takes to be the best.

There is arguably no tougher physical trial for an athlete than the Olympic decathlon. It consists of 10 events over two days that test everything from strength to sheer stamina. To get fully conditioned, Macey worked on his body four hours a day for nine months before the competition. He used a seven-day cycle that consisted of six days of intense training -- including running, plyometrics, gymnastics and endless technique drills -- followed by a day off. “The conditioning sessions in the months leading up to the season are really important,” he says. “Even though I’d be struggling by the end of the week, after my day off I’d be up and ready to do it all again.” To get to the Olympics, he adds, you have to physically overload yourself almost every day. “To train for sports like these isn’t good for your body long-term,” he explains. “But it has to be done if you want to compete at that level.”

While training, Macey needed to maintain his weight at around 100 kilos and consume 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day to stay there. He mostly stuck to a balanced nutritional program that consisted of equal amounts of fish, chicken and red meat along with whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. “But I do like to mix up my diet,” he admits. “And I never did take it very seriously because I’ve never had a problem in that department.” If he wanted a burger and chips he would have it -- and his “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy seems to have served him well. “As long as I was in great shape after the conditioning phase of my training,” he says, “I knew I had the background and the platform to set myself up for a great season.”

According to Macey, there are two types of people who make it to the Olympics. On the one hand are those who have geared their training to getting on the team -- they’re thrilled to be there, but don’t have a real chance of winning a medal. And then there are the others: the most talented athletes in the world. The latter, says Macey, shouldn’t push themselves too far when trying to qualify. “I would aim to do what I needed to, to qualify for selection,” he explains. “You don’t want to go hell-for-leather at that stage and risk injury. So I’d calculate the number of points I needed and shoot for that.” The key, he adds, is to be in good enough shape, but not at your physical peak. “You can only do that once or twice a year and it would be a complete waste of time for a qualifier.” After Macey established himself as Britain’s No. 1 decathlete, he really only had to show selectors that he was fit and in good form to make the team.

Psychology of Winning
Training by yourself is one thing. Competing in a stadium with 100,000 screaming fans is quite another; it’s hard to stay focused and to not think about the other competitors. But on game day, says Macey, the only person he ever thought about was himself. “When you make it to the Olympic Games, all the hard work has been done. There’s no one other than you that can affect your performance,” he explains. “I know where everyone else is strong, I know where they are weak and I know where I’ll need to make my move.” Perhaps most important is doing it for the right reasons. “At the end of the day,” says Macey, “I never competed for medals or money. For me, it was about seeing how good I could be.”

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