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Michael Phelps: Greatest Olympian Ever?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

With the Olympics beginning to heat up, and Michael Phelps's 20th medal today in the 200m IM, there is much debate as to who is the greatest Olympian ever. 

I don't think that there is much doubt that Phelps is the greatest swimmer off all time, and the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. However do you think that Phelps is the greatest Olympian off all time? Obviously, one must consider that there is a significantly larger amount of events in swimming, and thus more medal opportunities.

 

Some potential competitors

  • Carl Lewis
  • Jesse Owens
  • Alexander Karelin ( Russian Wrestler who won 3 straight golds in Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta, whilst going 13 years undefeated)
  • Steve Redgrave ( British Rower who won 5 straight golds in 5 years)

 

 
My personal opinion? Phelps, whilst the argument that there are more medals for offer in swimming is valid, more events also means that athletes are forced to train with much more variety, and become the best on the planet in multiple different events ( this is in Phelps case) in many different events, all differing in length and style. There are also many other factors that have an effect e.g. the stamina it takes to compete in the 20+ events in 9 days that Phelps did in Beijing (heats, semi's final for most events), and the relative simplicity for other competitors only having to train for one event for the 4 years between the games.
 
What do you think?
post #2 of 20

Add Al Oerter to the list - 4 straight discus throw wins. The last 2 he never won any events between the olympics but somehow managed to come through for the gold.

 

Eric Heiden winning golds in all distances in speed skating is up there too.I can't understand how that is physiologically possible.

 

To say Phelps is better than people who have NO CHANCE to win as many medals is silly.

post #3 of 20

I would argue that the greatest individual feat in Olympic history was accomplished by Czechoslovakian runner Emil Zatopek at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Zatopek first defended his 1948 gold medal in the 10,000 meters, then won the 5,000 meters as well. On a lark, he entered himself into the marathon, despite never racing the distance before. For the first half of the race, he followed the lead of the world-record holder in the marathon, Jim Peters of Britain. Emil would eventually run alongside Peters, asking him if he thought their pace was too fast. Peters jokingly responded that it was too slow; Emil then accelerated out of sight, setting the Olympic record in his first ever marathon.

 

We may see athletes match Michael Phelps' medal count; we may see athletes be as spectacularly dominant in their fields as Usain Bolt; and we may see athletes with the longevity of Carl Lewis or Steven Redgrave, winning gold at four or five different Olympiads. But we will never again see one athlete win the 5,000, the 10,000, and the marathon in the same games.

 

post #4 of 20

Phelps is pretty amazing ... but I am putting in a vote for Usain Bolt.  Watching him absolutely destroy the fields in both the 100 and 200 for the second straight Olympics, and doing it in the most relaxed way possible, has me in total awe.

 

After watching the 4 x 100 prelims tonight, I am very excited to see the showdown between Jamaica and USA tomorrow  (with Bolt and Tyson Gay added to the respective rosters).

 

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed these Olympics.

post #5 of 20

Count the medals.  Yup, Phelps is the greatest olympian ever.

post #6 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chilli Dipper View Post

We may see athletes match Michael Phelps' medal count; we may see athletes be as spectacularly dominant in their fields as Usain Bolt; and we may see athletes with the longevity of Carl Lewis or Steven Redgrave, winning gold at four or five different Olympiads. But we will never again see one athlete win the 5,000, the 10,000, and the marathon in the same games.

 

Really? I think you'd get better odds of the latter than the former. 22 and 18 is a lot of hardware.

post #7 of 20

Should have a poll attached to this thread:

 

Phelps, Bolt, Lewis, Owens, Ali, Spitz, Karelin, Heiden (very good argument for him by Broomhandle up above - why can't Bolt run the 5000 meters??), other.

 

I suspect it would end up Phelps, Bolt, Other in some order but, who knows?

post #8 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by iacas View Post

Really? I think you'd get better odds of the latter than the former. 22 and 18 is a lot of hardware.
Missy Franklin is 17 and won five medals in London; she has time to improve, and could compete in three more Olympics before she's 30. The fact that swimmers have so many opportunities to medal, begin their careers so young, and yet also have the potential to have long competitive careers (Dara Torres won an Olympic medal before I was born, yet just missed being on Team USA this year), I think it's possible for someone to match Phelps' medal count. Maybe not likely, but certainly possible.

In contrast, we probably won't see a marathoner even compete in the 5,000 or 10,000 in the same games (let alone win each event) ever again. The marathon is competed on a much larger scale today than it was 60 years ago, and the training has become much more specialized. Zatopek set Olympic records in all three events in 1952; new Olympic records were set in each of those events in Beijing four years ago. Zatopek's OR's in the 5k and 10k (14:06.6, 29:17.0) are both 1.088 times the current OR's Kenenisa Bekele set in those events (12:57.82, 27:01.17), but the marathon OR has advanced at a much faster pace. Following the rate of progression seen in the 5k and 10k, the marathon record would be 2:11:29, but the late Sammy Wanjiru ran a time five full minutes faster than that in Beijing.

What has caused the marathon record to drop so much is that modern marathoners prepare more and race less than they did even 20 years ago. The US Marathon trials were held in January, and none of the three men who qualified for team USA have raced at any distance since March. And while it's not uncommon to see recreational or regional-level runners do back-to-back races, like running a 10k and a marathon on the same weekend, those runners are not aiming for personal bests, and those feats are unheard of among the elite ranks, where runners are aiming for personal bests in every race.
post #9 of 20

Well, Usain Bolt has rendered this discussion moot by not just declaring himself the greatest Olympian, but the greatest athlete of all time.
 

post #10 of 20
Quote:
But we will never again see one athlete win the 5,000, the 10,000, and the marathon in the same games.

I was a great feat, but it was just in one games.  There was also less competition back then, especially in the distance races.  He was phenomenal though.  But, everyone is gunning for Phelps and he still did it. Tremendous competition and some of the races were won by mere lengths of finger nails.

 

To add to Eric Heiden's cred, he also won the US Championship in Road Bicycle racing. He raced Pro in Europe, while attending medical school to be an orthopedic surgeon, all at the same time. And he won all the distances in speed skating, sprint through distance.  Emil would have had to win the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, and 3000 to top that.

post #11 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Golfingdad View Post

Should have a poll attached to this thread:

 

Phelps, Bolt, Lewis, Owens, Ali, Spitz, Karelin, Heiden (very good argument for him by Broomhandle up above - why can't Bolt run the 5000 meters??), other.

 

I suspect it would end up Phelps, Bolt, Other in some order but, who knows?

 

How about May and Walsh?  Three gold medals in three games, and only one dropped set. 

 

Heiden has to be on any list simply based on what Boogielicious posted.  What goes for Emil goes for Bolt as well.

post #12 of 20

In terms of medals, yes.

 

And now, he will appear on the next Golf Channel series with Haney as his celebrity instructor

post #13 of 20

Total medal quantity should not be a very big factor, I believe, in this debate.  How many have Larisa Latynina or Paavo Nurmi on their greatest ever lists?

 

I'm guessing none, and they are 2nd and 3rd, respectively, behind Phelps for most medals won in history.

post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Golfingdad View Post

Total medal quantity should not be a very big factor, I believe, in this debate.  How many have Larisa Latynina or Paavo Nurmi on their greatest ever lists?

 

I'm guessing none, and they are 2nd and 3rd, respectively, behind Phelps for most medals won in history.

 

Perhaps true in regards to Latynina, since gymnastics is a fundamentally different sport today than it was 50 years ago, but there are a lot of people who would put Paavo Nurmi on their greatest ever lists. Ask that friend or co-worker of yours who enters a lot of 10k's, and ask him or her about the Flying Finns. You'll get a mouthful.

post #15 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chilli Dipper View Post

Perhaps true in regards to Latynina, since gymnastics is a fundamentally different sport today than it was 50 years ago, but there are a lot of people who would put Paavo Nurmi on their greatest ever lists. Ask that friend or co-worker of yours who enters a lot of 10k's, and ask him or her about the Flying Finns. You'll get a mouthful.

Possibly ... but I was basically going off of the fact that I had never heard Latynina's name until last week when Phelps got close to passing her.  And, the name Paavo Nurmi I got from wikipedia today and although I may have heard it before, it didn't ring a bell.  And, to further back my hypothesis, neither name had been mentioned in this thread yet either.

post #16 of 20

I vote for Kerri Walsh and Misty  May-Traynor.  But humor aside, I think Michael Phelps is wonderful, but I remember Spitz and I'll go with him.

post #17 of 20

I've said for years that medal counts in some sports (track, swimming, diving, rowing, speed skating, cross country skiing, running, cycling, etc) gives some athletes inflated medals totals relative to other athletes. I remember when the decathlon winner was considered the best athlete of the games, but they only give out one decathlon gold every year.

 

My opinion - if Phelps isn't the greatest, he's on a very short list. My vote might go to someone who competed over more games and won in entirely different sports.

post #18 of 20

I change my vote to Rebecca Soni.  6 time Olympic medalist  (4 golds, 2 silvers), super cute, and ... and ... I saw her at the beach yesterday. c3_clap.gif  Yay for me!

 

rebecca-soni-10630.jpg

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