Not everyone can run a 2:21:14 marathon like Shalane Flanagan, who just made her fourth Olympic team at the U.S. Olympic trials last month in Los Angeles.
Not everyone can nail five dives in perfect sync with a teammate off a 3-meter springboard like Abby Johnston.
And most likely no one else in history has gone on from college tennis to become a banker -- and then turned into a record-breaking professional cyclist, like Evelyn Stevens.
But many supreme athletes do share one thing with mortals: their undying love for coffee. In separate interviews, Flanagan, Johnston, and Stevens happily divulged the depth of their habit, how it helps (or hurts) performance, and what they think of people who abstain.
How much are you addicted to coffee on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being "can't live without it"?
Flanagan (runner): Nine
Johnston (diver): Nine. I'll have three or four cups in the morning. Then I'm over it. But iced coffee doesn't count.
Stevens (cyclist): 8.5. I'll drink one or two cups a day, but only in the morning. I'm naturally high-energy, so I don't need too much.
Do you think coffee helps your athletic performance?
Flanagan: Yeah, and maybe it's mental more than anything, but I don't know an endurance athlete that doesn't have a cup at least a couple hours before a race. Personally, I wouldn't go to the line without a cup of coffee. On our team, we joke that coffee is our PED [performance-enhancing drug]. We think it makes us a little bit happier more than anything.
Johnston: Yeah, it helps alertness. If I don't have enough time to finish my cup before practice, I'll just bring it on the [pool] deck. Luckily my Italian coach loves coffee, too, so he understands. Yeah, I've spilled on the mats before. I try to wipe it up then walk away ... but it's a pool deck! It'll get wet and clean itself.
Stevens: When I switched from being a banker to being a cyclist, I actually cut back on caffeine because I found the most effective thing that helps my performance is sleep. In-season, I try to get nine to 10 hours.
In cycling, you're in a pack with 200 women next to you so you have to be super-aware and conscious of what the person three rows behind you and three rows ahead of you is doing. Sleep, for me, is really the best way to be clear. Too much caffeine almost overstimulates me, which impedes my riding.
How close to competition or race time will you drink coffee?
Flanagan: Like three to four hours out. You definitely have to be a little more careful with the marathon. In track, I can go as close as two hours before I compete.
Johnston: I don't really have a rule.
Stevens: Only in the morning. If I have it in the afternoon, it's an impediment to my sleep. So I try to never drink it [past] noon.
Do you travel with your own beans and paraphernalia?
Flanagan: If I feel I'm in danger of not having good coffee, I'll definitely bring my AeroPress. It's a plastic contraption that lets you press your own individual cup. My whole team loves it. It looks like a little science experiment.
Johnston: No, but last summer my teammate Kristian Ipsen brought an espresso maker to Russia for the world championships and his bag weighed like 70 pounds. But the [electrical] current is different over there. He had an adapter but not a converter and when he plugged it in, it kind of sparked and died. We were pretty bummed out.
Stevens: No, I have too many things in my bag as it is.
Have you ever suffered from bad coffee timing?
Flanagan: At a Diamond League race in Rome, probably six years ago, I had an espresso and ran 5,000 meters. I was fine through the race, but afterward I remember throwing up in my spike bag. The espresso was so strong and intense and I was a little dehydrated on top of that, and hard-hard racing gets your stomach going.
Johnston: Not really, but my 3-meter synchro partner Laura Ryan gets really shaky so she'll stop drinking it about two weeks in advance -- which, in my mind, is a little extreme. I don't know how she has the self-control to do it.
Stevens: I've gotten the shakes, but not when I'm racing, just when I'm training.
How do you drink it?
Flanagan: Just a little bit of creamer, no sugar.
Johnston: Black, and I'm a firm believer in very hot coffee.
Stevens: I'd say three-quarters coffee, one-quarter milk. I'm really into milk, and I like my milk to be hot.
People who don't drink coffee are...
Flanagan: People you shouldn't trust. I'm teasing. My coach, Jerry [Schumacher], doesn't, and I trust him fully. But everyone has a vice. It makes me think those that don't drink coffee might have some other vice.
Johnston: A mystery to me.
Stevens: Missing out. I'm always a little surprised when someone doesn't drink coffee.