2004 Olympic Silver medalist in the 100m and 200m backstroke
2008 World Champion in the 200m backstroke
2010 European Championships Silver medalist in the 200m IM
Austrian two-time Olympic medalist Markus Rogan was more than ready to walk away from swimming after his third go-around in Beijing. In fact, he told reporters that he couldn’t wait to retire.
The Austrian backstroke star immediately traded his tech suit for a business suit and went to work as an investment banker, only to find that “my head was definitely in it, but my heart wasn’t.” His bosses would criticize him for spending his time “getting to know the customers instead of selling them stuff.” And his colleagues couldn’t comprehend why he’d changed careers in the first place.
To Rogan’s surprise, “These investment bankers told me they would give up everything to be a professional athlete. That singularity of focus is a very luxurious lifestyle. It’s the one area we have left where we can be socially acceptably selfish. That’s when I decided that maybe I had one more Olympics in me. I still had some joy left.”
The London Games didn’t bring him Rogan more medals, but they allowed him to be part of the opening ceremonies. And he got to do so as his country’s flag bearer. “In the pool, I’d done everything,” he explains. “I’d reached my potential. But carrying the flag for Austria was the experience I had been missing.”
His fourth and final Olympic training cycle also changed the way he looked at the sport. Austrian ski champion Klaus Heidegger suggested he consult a sports psychologist, telling his young countryman, “You’re at an age where your body is declining but your mind is really just reaching its full potential. Why don’t you work with a professional?”
Rogan did and wishes he’d done so much sooner. “I started far too late,” he now realizes. “I was an arrogant jerk. When it came to mental preparation, I was like, ‘I got this.’ I didn’t realize I was running away from my problems. I only started seeing a sports psychologist the last three years, but they were the most satisfying years of my swimming career. It helped me with my focus and breathing. I always took that for granted, but breath is such comfort to me now.”
Most importantly, he says, “Psychology has also taught me that my feelings are totally OK. Whether I’m angry, sad, mad or glad, the full range of human experience is OK. And that’s what I want to share. We don’t have to run away or hide from them.”
He shares this example: “I used to get angry watching people like Ryan Lochte. I’d ask myself, ‘How come this guy is so much better? What does he have?’ For a while, I would just repress that feeling and turn it against myself. Instead of being angry with him, I turned that anger against myself and made myself small. Then I accidentally beat Ryan at World Championships and didn’t know how what do with that. If I’d I realized sooner I should spend more time worrying about myself instead of what everyone else was doing, I definitely would have had a better experience at the Beijing Olympics.”
After London, he left swimming for yet another career, but this time it was one he knew was right for him. The Stanford grad moved back to California for grad school, working towards his Masters degree in psychology from Antioch University. Meanwhile, Heidegger, his old Austrian mentor, introduced Rogan to his next one: UCLA faculty member Dr. Mark Oakley, a behavioral psychologist.
Rogan and Oakley would go to co-found the Academy of Peak Performance, where they counsel athletes and corporate leaders. Their clientele includes the athletic departments at UCLA and USC, the Brazilian Olympic Preparation Committee, Western Union, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and the U.S. Army. In a nutshell: “I help people overcome performance anxiety and prepare for important events,” he explains. (Blog post from Rogan: The Pyramid of Achievement)
His counseling work has also begun to give him as much, if not more, satisfaction than his best races. “The feeling I get from a moment of emotional intimacy with a patient is really similar to the way I used to feel after a good race. And now that I’m able to hold that intimacy, it’s better than any swimming race.”
Now he’ll have the chance to combine both of those feelings as a clinician with the Fitter & Faster Swim Tour, Presented by SwimOutlet.com. “I look forward to earning the trust of each young athlete,” he says. “I love that times have changed from just showing up and showing off your Olympic medals to the point where young participants can now expect to be fully engaged and have their future career be the center of attention.”
Naturally, his FFT clinics will have a mental component. “The message I want to convey is that you have a choice,” he says. “I want to empower you to take charge of your environment. And even when things go terribly wrong, you still have control over your own mind. Own it!”