Olympians are the cream of the world's sporting crop and as such, they exist in and perform at a level that most people have no chance of achieving. But how did they reach this level, what brought them there and could it be you?
If you've ever seriously asked yourself this question then it's probably wise to stop and contemplate the bigger picture. There may not be a mould from which Olympians are created, but the path to glory is gruelling and complex, with training and lifestyle requirements as serious as they are intense.
Take a walk to your local Olympic pool and look at that eight-lane, 50m stretch of water; go to your nearest athletics park and check out that 400m oval track marked with lanes, and start and finish points. The crowds and TV cameras may be absent and the condition of the facilities wanting, but that pool and track are, at a raw level, exactly the same as those used at the Olympics.
In that very same pool, James Magnusson could swim the 100m in under 48 seconds; on that same track, Usain Bolt could run the 100m in under 9.7 seconds. The point to bear in mind is, these athletes live in the same world as us; they are human beings breathing the same air, dealing with the same laws of physics and the same limits of human anatomy.
This is an inspiring thought for hopeful athletes everywhere, but the reality is that future Olympians will need to start with some critical foundation stones; a good physique and some natural talent is a great start point. The next prerequisite is a steely determination not to be swayed from your goal and an unshakable dedication to the correct training, diet and lifestyle behaviours to the point that training rules your life.
As Jimmy Walker, former Australian Olympic kayaking star and now acclaimed paddling coach, said, "Talent will give you 40 percent, training will give you another 40 percent, but the last 20 percent is where that real true dedication and effort comes into it. There's no faking that."
It's unwise to generalise, but it's fair to say that the majority of Olympic competitors began their journey to the Games at a very young age. It is not uncommon for teenage swimmers to bag a bunch of gold medals in the pool, nor is it unusual to see competitors who would otherwise be in school taking to the diving platform. Indeed, it is positively expected that gymnasts be of a tender age.
That means that many athletes adhere to a strict lifestyle from childhood. Australian running legend Cathy Freeman is typical of those who go on to win Olympic gold her talent was recognised early in her life and those in-the-know saw something special in her as a child.
"I was always surrounded by expectation from the very first race I ran as a five-year-old," Freeman has said of her early development as an athlete. "[And] since grade one at school people looked at me and thought, 'oh gosh she can really run, she's a natural'."
Triple swimming gold-medallist Dawn Fraser once said, "The Olympics remain the most compelling search for excellence that exists in sport, and maybe in life itself," and it was her burning desire to get to the Games that drove her to train relentlessly in her early years.
"I knew that the stronger that I was, the faster I was going to swim, and that's all I had in my mind at the time," Fraser has said. "[And] I wanted to be the best swimmer in the world."
Another who found the secret to Olympic success was iconic Aussie runner Betty Cuthbert. For her, it was an unwavering focus on her running that yielded results.
"You've got to stick at a thing, a particular thing, until you succeed," she said. "I feel that's the only way to succeed by concentrating on something in particular. Once you know what you've got to do, you will succeed."
If you think you are cut out for Olympic success, take some final advice from Jim Walker.
"You have to give up so much of normal day to day life and become isolated from things your friends are doing; the sport becomes your life," he said. "When you look back, the training is actually the easy part. It's the actual thinking about training and your fitness 24 hours a day, seven days a week and giving up other parts of life that is the hardest."