There’s a lot of debate going on right now about who the greatest Olympian of all time is. Michael Phelps has won 22 medals, with 18 of them gold. That’s a heavy load to carry, isn’t it Mike? I mean, can you even carry that many medals at one time, or would you have to carry half and come back for the rest later?
Humor aside, after his last win, Phelps said, “It’s a good way to finish my last individual swim ever. To be able to win it is pretty special.”
Phelps has been nothing but gracious in a time when smack talk runs rampant. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James of the U.S. basketball team compare themselves to the 1992 dream team, and brag that they could beat the team that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other hall-of-famers.
I wonder how it would sound if Phelps proclaimed himself to be, “the Greatest”, challenging all to compare records with him, including a certain boxer who claims the moniker as his own.
The swimmer with the most medals of all time, Phelps has won 18 gold medals, doubling the second best-ever swimmer, Mark Spitz, who won 11 medals, nine of them gold.
Through four Olympics competitions, Phelps has proven that he is the greatest swimmer ever, but is he the greatest Olympian ever?
Would you prefer him over Jessie Owens? Owens ran in only the 1936 Olympics vs. the Aryan “master race” in Nazi Germany, and shocked the world by winning gold medals in the 100, 200, 400 relay and long jump. That was the first time in Olympic history that anyone had achieved that feat, and it was only duplicated by Carl Lewis in 1984, BUT the ’84 Olympics was boycotted by 14 countries, including the Soviet Union, East Germany and Cuba.
Regardless, Owens beat the pants off the Nazi empire, who were dead set on proving to the world that they were better than anyone else– literally.
“German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.”
— Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels
These were the first games in Olympic history to be televised live by the way, and the whole world was inspired by his performance.
Interestingly enough, Owens himself supported a boycott of the games, but in the end, seized the day by doing what he did best.
When Owens won, Hitler refused to shake hands with Owens, saying, “Do you really think I will allow myself to be photographed shaking hands with a Negro?”
In the end, Germany amassed 89 medals. Way more than any other country, with the US coming in second with 56 medals. But Owens made his point, as you can see in this American Experience film.
There are other great athletes can can also be argued to be the greatest ever. One being the aforementioned Carl Lewis, who won nine gold medals and one silver in four Summer Games. He was voted Sportsman of the Century by the IOC, and World Athlete of the Century by the IAAF. But that was the 20th century.
Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin won the gold in three Olympics. Not enough? He went undefeated for 13 years, and shut out his opponents for six of them. He did not allow a point in six years. Several opponents actually quit because of the reign of terror he inflicted upon them. Talk about intimidation?
In the end though, maybe you can’t compare runners to swimmers or wrestlers any more than you can compare apples to oranges or strawberries. Maybe they’re all delicious, and we should enjoy them all.
What are your thoughts? Please comment below.
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