Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian ever?

This question was raised several times by television personalities and newspaper reporters during the 2012 London Olympic Games. And the answer always seemed to be somewhere between, “Well..perhaps but he was a swimmer so he could compete in many different events…” to “…But how can you compare Phelps to other great Olympic athletes like Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens or Alexander Karelin?

The non-swimming media pundits acknowledged that Phelps has more medals than anyone in history, but they were not ready to acknowledge he was the greatest ever. But we have no problems doing so for the following reasons:

1. The question is not is Phelps the greatest athlete in the world which would probably go to someone like a decathlete champion or an overall gymnast gold medalist or even a basketball player like LeBron James. But who is the greatest Olympian of all time where greatest is measured by time, distance and medals. Phelps proved himself over and over again like no one else in history.

2. Diversification. While non-swimmers may think all swimming events are basically the same, Phelps won in events ranging from the 100m butterfly to the 400m individual medley. Swimmers know, however, to train and succeed in the 100 butterfly sprint is much different than to do the same in the 400 individual medley. Ask sprint butterfly specialists Milorad Čavić or Ian Crocker what it takes to succeed in the 400 IM. Ask Olympic medley champions Gunnar Larsson or Tom Dolan what it takes to win a gold medal in the 100 butterfly. These athletes will confirm how difficult it is to win at a range of events from the 100 fly to the 200 free to the 400 IM and how remarkably unique and diversified Phelps is.

3. If the pundits had tossed out Phelps’ relay medals in the discussions, we could see their point…to a point. Clearly, other great Olympians did not have the opportunities to participate on so many relays as did Phelps who won 7 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze relay medals during his career. But just getting on these relays demanded that Phelps be the best in the world…and Phelps always had great split times on his relays. One can say that one part of being the greatest Olympian is being a great teammate and always performing well under pressure…which Phelps did on his relays.

Our vote – admittedly skewed towards aquatics – is with Phelps.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source


 

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