Michael Phelps’s Rio Olympics are over with a successful 5 gold medals and 1 silver medals. This adds to his grand total of 23 Gold and 28 total Medals. It has been argued for quite sometime that Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time. Every time the Olympics come around ESPN and other sports networks breakout their rankings to tell us who they think is the greatest ever.
I hate these best ever rankings. There is almost nothing that qualifys someone to say who is better than someone else especially in a completely different sport. The rankings also do nothing, it’s only to raise controversy and get people talking. That’s why you will see some writer in the next few weeks say that Phelps isn’t even top 10. Not because they believe it, but because they want there name out there. I don’t know why you’d want publicity just for having a stupid opinion.
That being said I’ll get back to the main point of the article. Who is the greatest Olympian ever. This is an impossible question. I’ll ask you this who is the better football player Tom Brady or Jerry Rice? The response to this should be “that’s a stupid question they played completely different positions, you can’t say one is better than the other”. So If we can’t decide who is better in the same sport, why would we even try to compare athletes who play completely different sports and would never even compete against each other.
Let’s take Usain Bolt versus Michael Phelps. Both are probably the greatest ever in their respective sports. Both have won gold medals and have broken world records. How would you separate these two. Phelps has won more medals, but Bolt has never lost in the Olympics. Many argue that Phelps has so many medals because he’s able to compete in so many events. This is true however it’s not like each event is the same, he competes in the Medley which uses 4 strokes, each is a completely different skill. Usain Bolt has opportunities to compete in different track events like the 400m or hurdles, but he doesn’t. Competing in that variety of events is not common in track, however it’s not all that common in swimming either. Seeing Phelps compete in such a variety of events has confused many viewers to think that this is normal and lots of swimmers compete in this many. It’s not, most swimmers specialize in a particular stroke or distance. Usually if you are a backstroke or a breaststroke swimmer you are on the team only for that particular stroke. You may be able to compete in 100m and 200m and maybe a relay, but you are doing the same stroke each time. Take Katie Ledecky for example; she just had an incredible Olympics and is one of the world’s best swimmers, but she only swims freestyle. Phelps swims every stroke, which shows his versatility and greatness that he can be so great at so many events. However Usain Bolt has to face off against a greater percentage of the world, because not everyone can swim or has the opportunity to learn how to swim, but everyone who is able can learn how to run. It goes back and forth, the point is there is no real way to separate two of the best in their different sports.
Obviously I am a big Michael Phelps fans and I think he belongs on top of any list of greatest Olympians out there, but you can’t compare him with other greats that competed in completely different sports. If you want an all time list I think it should be more of a mount Rushmore or a top group of all time greats put together in no particular order. Trying to decide who’s better between sports in a tireless argument with no right answer.
My Qualifications for all time Olympic greats is
- Multiple gold medals
- Broken World Record (If it applies, like wrestling wouldn’t)
- Not a dumb event like trampoline
- And I don’t count sports where the Olympics isn’t their biggest event ex. Tennis, golf, basketball, soccer etc.