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What an Athlete's Signature Says About Olympic Psychology

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The Olympics are coming to a close and, once again, swimmer Michael Phelps leaves having set new world records. His recent performance takes me back 40 years. It was 1972 when his predecessor won seven gold medals, the most that had ever been won by an athlete over the course of one Olympiad. Mark Spitz retained that honour for many, many years.

What do we know about the psychology of an Olympic athlete? The signature of Mark Spitz is worth examining. We can learn something about what it takes to excel in sports; also, in life.

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Signature of Mark Spitz

In my earlier blog entries, I pointed out interesting symbols that we often find in handwriting. In the signature above, we notably find the image of the swimmer, arms outstretched as if executing the butterfly stroke, this embedded in the writer's first name. For graphologists, the first name informs us about the writer's personal self (compared to the professional self, represented in the last name).

In my last blog entry, we noted a symbol in the signature of movie star Jane Russell and reflected that that symbol was comfortably integrated within her signature. By comparison, in the above signature, the symbol overtakes or even consumes the personal name which then becomes illegible. What does this mean to the graphologist?

The first name represents the part of the self that governs personal vested interests. This is exactly the part that so often must be compromised in the quest for greatness. Those who attain exquisite accomplishments are usually those who have negated the sovereignty of the personal self, at least in part, in order to either achieve a feat of significance or to align with higher values. It's a trade-off; would you prefer comfort, or kudos?

The Olympic athlete knows much about that sort of surrender. Interestingly, in an interview, Spitz told a reporter that he will never race his sons in their backyard swimming pool because, "when I swim against somebody, I don't care if you're my son, I'm going to kick your butt." In other words, the athletic response is so deeply ingrained it overwhelms the more personal parental response which might otherwise dominate the consciousness of a parent.

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Signature of Tami Simon

In another example, the signature of Tami Simon, a publisher of spiritual books, shows the inspiration she garners from Eastern philosophy. In her signature, we find a symbol reminiscent of the Chinese Tai Ji with its Yin and Yang facets, mirror images of each other. Showing her strong identification with a discipline that corresponds both to her personal lifestyle and her vocational calling, the symbol renders the signature illegible, as if the personal becomes less important given another priority: the desire to be an ambassador of a spiritual ideology.

In this day and age, when children and adults alike minister to their personal cravings in a myriad of ways; when life has become a veritable buffet of Internet distractions, video games, television programming and access to large volumes of rich and sweet snack food, we would do well to remember a story told about violinist Fritz Kreisler. That famous violinist was supposedly approached after his performance, by a woman who exclaimed, "I would give my life to play the violin as beautifully as you do." Kreisler replied simply: "I did."