5 Factors That Affect Olympic Performance

Michael Phelps crushed the competition at the 2008 Beijing games. But how? See more Olympic pictures.
Photo courtesy © IOC/Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Sweat dripping off the forehead, water cascading from the body, legs aching after the exertion. All may occur during the sort of intense, physical toils Olympians undergo to prepare for their events. Plus, do we even need to mention the multiple daily workouts, diet scrutiny and absurdly early wakeups? And yet, years of hard training can prove itself in a window of mere seconds, mere inches or mere pounds, depending on the event.

But many Olympic athletes have an edge over the rest of us, and over some of their competition, too. That's because a lot of factors can influence an athlete's success -- some inborn, some acquired. Take Michael Phelps. There's been a lot of speculation about how he managed to win an unprecedented eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing games. Some argue it was because of physical factors like his crazy wingspan; Phelps' arms reach 80 inches (203 centimeters) while his body measures only 76 inches (193 centimeters) in height [source: Hadhazy]. But others think it's purely a matter of relentless training and skill refinement.

In this list, we'll take a look at these aspects and some of the other ones that can affect an Olympian on the quest for gold. Ready, set, go!