Michael Phelps just won his twentieth Olympic medal. To put this in perspective – If you’re a human being with all of your digits you need to use them all to count the medals he has won at an event that is held every four years. I hate to break it to you he still isn’t the best ever Olympian and here’s why…
Some time ago, 116 years ago in fact, a man called Edwin Flack made his way to Athens for the first modern Olympic Games. Competing in the 800m, 1500m, marathon and singles and doubles tennis, winning Gold in the 800 and 1500 both athletic events and finishing third in the Doubles (Bronze medals were not awarded in 1896).
Flack was the first of ten athletes in the history of the modern games to have won medals in two sports, meaning that on average this is an achievement that happens once every three Olympics.
What makes this achievement more special was that he took a month off work to travel to the Games, something that many modern-day athletes don’t have to worry about with their endorsement deals.
What about Mark Spitz ? I hear you saying “Phelps won eight Gold in 2008, so he is better than Spitz”. We might have to agree to disagree on that one.
Quantity doesn’t always beat quality and Spitz swum at a time when the Soviet nations were rising to prominence in the water.
The technology available to Spitz was far different, with fast suits a thing of the future.
Does it matter how many medals are won as to how great an Olympian you are ?
I don’t think it does, and the whole concept of “greatest ever Olympian” is nothing more than a debate for the sake of debating.
Phelps is a great athlete, certainly the best Swimmer I’ve ever seen, but ten years ago we weren’t ever going to see anyone better than Ian Thorpe.
Greatness comes down to how you want to perceive it and whether you like it or not, it’s nigh on impossible to compare athletes who are never going to have the chance to race each other (not that I wouldn’t want to see Spitz and Phelps go at it).
Rather than continuing what is a fun yet tiring debate, people should look at the real answer.
There isn’t ever going to be a greatest Olympian, especially given an Olympian is something you are forever, it doesn’t stop once the games are over.
Johnny Weissmuller was a multiple sport Gold Medallist who played Tarzan in the 1932 hit Tarzan the ape man, surely a case can be made for him ?
Another fact that is all too often forgotten as that we’ll never know or remember the names of 95% of the athletes who compete in any given Olympics, because for them being an Olympian is success enough.
In saying that, I’d love to know who you think the greatest Olympian of all-time is, because who doesn’t enjoy weighing in on this debate as pointless as it is.