During an April 5 NPR Hidden Brain podcast titled “Grit,” University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth spoke about research conducted by Daniel Chambliss, the Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology. Duckworth described Chambliss as “one of my favorite thinkers on this topic,” and referenced his extensive research on Olympic swimmers.
She discussed how Chambliss, through his observations, determined that excellence in swimming is at the “confluence of many small acts” and that there is no “mystery or magic.” The title of Chambliss’ prize-winning paper The Mundanity of Excellence - An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers, which she referenced, clearly reflects his conclusions.
Duckworth continued, recounting that Chambliss had said watching Mark Spitz swim was like watching a fish, like he was superhuman, but that Chambliss knew intellectually that Spitz’ success was a result of effort and practice. Nevertheless, “we still have that craving for the magic and mystery,” she said.
Chambliss is also the author of Champions: The Making of Olympic Swimmers, named Book of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.