Much has been made regarding Michael Phelps' facial expression prior to the 200 Meter Butterfly Semifinal. Chad le Clos, who bested Phelps for the Gold Medal in the London Games by 0.05 seconds, was displaying what might have been at least a portion of his typical warm-up by air-boxing. The South African swimmer was doing this in front of Phelps - as well as the others he would race. Many who watched this felt that Phelps' expression was a direct reaction to his rival - yet it's not that simple.
Those who are not accustomed to participating in athletic endeavors may believe that the purpose of adopting a particular facial expression or body configuration in these settings is to "Psyche-out" their opponents. Such intimidation motives are true - and yet this is not its sole purpose.
The "Game Face" is also used to achieve both a mental and an emotional state in the person displaying it. Thus by changing one's face and body to various alpha configurations - it truly changes the brain and body chemistry (i.e., increases adrenaline) in a manner which engenders a more optimal performance. Chad le Clos did this by air boxing, while Michael Phelps accomplished this same thing by facial expressions.
Of course this is only a glimpse into these Olympians pre-swim rituals, but along with letting us peek into their competitive minds - it also serves as a reminder that we too can change our body chemistry and emotion moments by altering our own nonverbal behavior. The value of such nonverbal practice has a profound and practical value adding to the emotional intelligence in virtually every real-world scenario far afield from the swimming pool or the football stadium.
In this semifinal, Phelps took second and le Clos was third. Phelps went on to win the 20th Gold Medal of his Olympic career in the final, while le Clos finished fourth.
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