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Is Michael Phelps The Greatest Olympic Athlete Of All Time?

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Michael Phelps has made Olympic history.

Phelps’ total of 22 medals is the most anyone has ever won and has many talking about where he ranks among the all-time Olympic greats.

Phelps has finished the 2012 Olympic Games with 6 medals, 4 gold and 2 silver.  That gives Phelps 18 gold medals over his Olympic career.  Amazing.  But is it enough to be considered the greatest ever?

Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympic athlete of all time?

Michael Phelps made his first Olympic appearance at the age of 15.  We have all watched in awe since.  Phelps is now 27 and is retiring from Olympic swimming.  He says he’s done everything he has set out to do, and it’s hard to argue against that.

Phelps’ accomplishments are historic, but to name him the greatest Olympic athlete of all time isn’t fair to many other Olympic greats.  Swimming offers athletes the opportunity to compete and win in multiple events both individually and as part of relay teams.

Accumulating Olympic medals is easier to do for a great swimmer than it is for a great boxer or pole vaulter or volleyball player.  Measuring greatness on medal quantity alone isn’t a fair way to compare athletes who don’t compete in the same events.

Most impressive to me is Michael Phelps’ Olympic gold medal 3-peat in two separate individual events, the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly.  He was the best in the world for 3 straight Olympics, that’s easier to make comparisons of greatness.

Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie just won his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in a single event.  His event is sailing.  He’s done something Michael Phelps has not done…won an event in four consecutive Olympic Games.

Carl Lewis did it too.  Lewis won the long jump in four consecutive Olympic Games.  Are Ainslie and Lewis greater Olympic athletes than Phelps?  That’s up for debate.

Phelps is without doubt the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time.  But I’m not ready to call him the greatest Olympic athlete ever.  If he decides to come back in 2016 and wins his fourth consecutive in two separate events, I just might change my mind.

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