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Micheline Ostermeyer, Olympian and Concert Pianist

It takes so much work and time to train to become outstanding at any endeavor that there are very few people who have risen to the top of the world stage in more than one field. One of the most impressive people who ever lived was Micheline Ostermeyer of France. She was born in 1922 and died at age 78 in 2001.

DOUBLE OLYMPIC CHAMPION: In 1948, at age 26, she won Olympic gold medals in both the shot put and discus and a third place bronze medal in the high jump. Today, great shot putters and discus throwers are huge women who usually take male hormones or have polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes a woman to have huge bones and muscles and often a lot of fat. But Micheline Ostermeyer was five feet, 11 inches tall and weighed only 160 pounds.

VICTOR HUGO’S GENES: She was a great-niece of the French author, Victor Hugo, and niece of composer Lucien Paroche. She started studying the piano at age four. Three months before the London Olympics in 1948, she graduated with high honors from the Paris Conservatory of Music. She continued to practice her piano five hours a day.

THREE OLYMPIC MEDALS: The 1948 Summer Olympics showed the world what a great athlete this concert pianist was. On the first day of competition, her final throw advanced her from third to first place in the discus. A few days later, she won the shot put by an incredible two feet. On the final day of competition, she equaled her own French record in the high jump to take the bronze medal, behind the American Alice Coachman and British Dorothy Tyler.

She said that playing the piano gave her “strong biceps and a sense of rhythm.” She celebrated her victories with a recital at France’s team headquarters and went on to become a famous concert pianist.

PAUL ROBESON AND KENNETH WILSON: Excellence requires so much time and effort that it is very rare for one person to rise to the top in two fields. The only people I can think of who compare with Michelene Ostermeyer are Paul Robeson and Kent Wilson. Robeson was an All-American football player at Rutgers, a phi beta kappa graduate of Cornell and one of American’s greatest opera singers.

Kenneth Geddes Wilson was on the track team with me at Harvard. I knew he was a great athlete because he won the Ivy League two mile outdoor and indoor two-mile races in 1954, 1955, and 1956. We both majored in math, but I never had classes with him because while I took undergraduate math courses, he took only graduate courses. I was shocked to learn that in his senior year he won the Putnam Competition, the most prestigious mathematics competition in the world. At age 47, he won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physics for combining quantum field theory and the statistical theory of critical phenomena of second-order phase transitions.

HUGE-MUSCLED CONCERT PIANIST: Back to Michelle Ostermeyer. How can a person with muscles so large that she is the best shot putter and discus thrower in the world, still have the coordination and power to finish third in the Olympic high jump and at the same time, be one of the best concert pianists in the world?

In 1937, Dr. Peter Karpovich of Springfield College in Massachusetts published a ground breaking paper showing that lifting weights helped men and women improve their coordination. At that time, his paper was ridiculed by most athletes in professional sports. Baseball players who ruled the radio waves never lifted weights because they thought that large muscles would interfere with their ability to catch and hit a ball, and the prevailing attitude was that lifting weights made you muscle- bound.

NO SUCH CONDITION AS MUSCLE-BOUND: Violin players, watchmakers and pianists, who require extraordinary coordination and dexterity to do their jobs should know that there is no such condition as “muscle-bound.” Training for strength improves coordination.

Your brain is a master switchboard that coordinates your muscles. Lifting weights does not interfere with brain function, it improves coordination in events that require strength: playing sports, working as a carpenter, opening a stuck door or beating a drum. Strength training makes you faster. Muscles are made up of slow and fast twitch fibers. The slow-twitch, red fibers are used primarily for endurance: for running long distances or performing continuous work. The fast twitch, white fibers are used primarily for strength and speed. The same fast-twitch fibers that are strengthened by weight-lifting are used for speed, so the stronger your muscles are, the faster you can move them.

LIFTING WEIGHTS IMPROVES COORDINATION: Lifting weights will improve your performance in every sport that requires power. It can help you to run faster, jump higher, throw farther and lift heavier. High jumpers have to do squats with heavy weights on their shoulders. Javelin throwers must strengthen their arms and legs, and sprinters have to strengthen their legs.

Baseball players from the 1930s could not compete in today’s professional leagues because they would be too weak and small. Babe Ruth, the greatest home run hitter of those days, probably would not even make the team today.

Lifting weights also does not stunt growth in growing children. To be great at almost anything, you need to start training at a very young age, devote seven days a week and twelve months a year to training at it, and be more talented than your competitors.

December 9th, 2012
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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