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Phelps - greatest Olympian ever? If not who is?


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#1 Oriole85

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 11:01 AM

This has been debated a lot recently. I think he's definitely in the discussion. I know many have stated Jesse Owens, particularly for what he did at the "Hitler Olympics." I think that was bigger for social reasons and I'm not trying to downplay, but Phelps has been doing his thing over three Olympics during a dozen-year span, so I think you have to look at multiple years moreso than a single one. I think you could even make the argument Owens had a better single Olympics but doesn't make him a bigger Olympian.
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#2 FlavaDave10

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 12:03 PM

You could make an argument for Carl Lewis. Track and field athletes don't have all the opportunities that swimmers have to win medals. His 1984 Olympics might be the most impressive of any American in track and field (4 golds).

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#3 BSLChrisStoner

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 12:19 PM

Overall, I think is very hard to determine best Olympian of all-time, due to variances of sports / competition / events, etc. With his overall medal count, and the 8 Golds in China, Phelps is always going to have a great argument.

I do agree with FlavaDave about Carl Lewis being in the discussion though. Just the multitude of events, and success he had.

It is a shame that when people often think of Lewis, they often think about the horrible National Anthem rendition, and Ben Johnson cheating to beat him in the 100M at Seoul.

I think when discussing the greatest Olympians ever, one has to always be cognizant of the continuing evolution of the records. An example being that one of the more impressive things I ever remember seeing was Michael Johnson in the '96 Olympics, with his 19.32 World Record time in the 200 Meters. Now though, Usain Bolt has reduced that to 19.19.

So while respecting the historical significance of Owens, I would always lean towards the most recent athletes.

#4 SammyBirdland

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 12:28 PM

Here's an interesting article on the subject:

http://www.cbc.ca/ne... ... -time.html
¡Hasta la vista, pelota!

#5 FlavaDave10

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 12:41 PM

Here's an interesting article on the subject:

http://www.cbc.ca/ne... ... -time.html




Spitz is in the discussion too because of how much better he was than everyone else and he retired early. Larisa is debatable because most gymnasts today are done by their early twenties. She was very influential though. Nadia is probably in the discussion too. Bjorn is arguably the greatest Winter Olympian of all time.

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#6 Chris B

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 02:21 PM

I think he is.

He's certainly the best Olympian of my time/generation.

#7 Ricker Says

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 02:27 PM

There are a ton of variables, and it's hard to really say definitively. I personally prefer to say "X is one of the GOAT's", as opposed to "X is THE GOAT."
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#8 mweb08

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 04:42 PM

Overall, I think is very hard to determine best Olympian of all-time, due to variances of sports / competition / events, etc. With his overall medal count, and the 8 Golds in China, Phelps is always going to have a great argument.

I do agree with FlavaDave about Carl Lewis being in the discussion though. Just the multitude of events, and success he had.

It is a shame that when people often think of Lewis, they often think about the horrible National Anthem rendition, and Ben Johnson cheating to beat him in the 100M at Seoul.

I think when discussing the greatest Olympians ever, one has to always be cognizant of the continuing evolution of the records. An example being that one of the more impressive things I ever remember seeing was Michael Johnson in the '96 Olympics, with his 19.32 World Record time in the 200 Meters. Now though, Usain Bolt has reduced that to 19.19.

So while respecting the historical significance of Owens, I would always lean towards the most recent athletes.


I think the only fair way to judge them is by viewing them within their era. It's not fair to say Bolt is a better Olympian than Johnson, Lewis, Owens, etc just because he has the better times.

Same with all sports.

#9 SportsGuy

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 04:51 PM

Owens had to put up with a lot more...but does that make him a better Olympian?

Wilson wrote a good article on this:

http://espn.go.com/o... ... ver-debate

#10 Oriole85

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 01:45 AM

I think the only fair way to judge them is by viewing them within their era. It's not fair to say Bolt is a better Olympian than Johnson, Lewis, Owens, etc just because he has the better times.

Same with all sports.

On a smaller scale, you could make that argument for all sports. Is it fair to compare Ruth to Williams to Mantle to Pujols?

While I get what you are coming from, I think it's part of the fun to compare Phelps to Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. It's one of those fun sports debates, where there isn't necessarily a right answer/
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#11 bnickle

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 03:51 AM

I honestly would have to do research to come to a conclusion and even then I hate comparing sports against other sports in coming up with one GOAT Olympian. He's obviously the greatest swimmer of all time.


I'll just say this 18 golds is insane. 18 golds out of 23 races. I think I read that the 400 IM earlier this year was the first time he raced in the Olympics and didn't medal. so 23 races and 18 Golds/ 2 Silver/2 Bronze.


Not only that but he's the first male to win the same swimming event 3 straight Olympics and he did that twice now in the 200 IM and 100 Fly. That shows longevity to me. He's also won golds in 3 of the 5 Olympic swimming events. Butterfy, Freestyle, and IM. I also remember reading something back around '08 that he was putting up breaststroke splits that were world class and if he had the time/energy probably could have medaled in that stroke as well. So yes, while swimming is one of the sports that gives you the ability to gobble up a lot of medals he's clearly shown a dominance in almost all of them. You have athletes specializing each stroke for years and years and this guy comes in and is world class having to spread his time and training out among all of them.

#12 FlavaDave10

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 07:19 AM

I honestly would have to do research to come to a conclusion and even then I hate comparing sports against other sports in coming up with one GOAT Olympian. He's obviously the greatest swimmer of all time.


I'll just say this 18 golds is insane. 18 golds out of 23 races. I think I read that the 400 IM earlier this year was the first time he raced in the Olympics and didn't medal. so 23 races and 18 Golds/ 2 Silver/2 Bronze.


Not only that but he's the first male to win the same swimming event 3 straight Olympics and he did that twice now in the 200 IM and 100 Fly. That shows longevity to me. He's also won golds in 3 of the 5 Olympic swimming events. Butterfy, Freestyle, and IM. I also remember reading something back around '08 that he was putting up breaststroke splits that were world class and if he had the time/energy probably could have medaled in that stroke as well. So yes, while swimming is one of the sports that gives you the ability to gobble up a lot of medals he's clearly shown a dominance in almost all of them. You have athletes specializing each stroke for years and years and this guy comes in and is world class having to spread his time and training out among all of them.


The last paragraph explains why I think the greatest Olympian ever is Carl Lewis. He didn't have NEAR the opportunities to win medals as Phelps did. 10 Olympic events, 10 medals, 9 golds, 1 silver. Can't get much better than that. Had great success over 4 Olympics. 4 straight gold medals in the long jump. Also did the 100, 4x100, and 200 during his career. Lewis dominated in every single event that he participated in. He was .04 seconds away from getting 10 golds in 10 events, and he actually broke the Olympic Record that he set in 1984 during that event.
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#13 mweb08

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 12:34 PM

On a smaller scale, you could make that argument for all sports. Is it fair to compare Ruth to Williams to Mantle to Pujols?

While I get what you are coming from, I think it's part of the fun to compare Phelps to Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. It's one of those fun sports debates, where there isn't necessarily a right answer/


Yes, it's fair to compare Ruth to Williams to Mantle to Pujols as long as we consider how they played compared to their peers. It wouldn't be fair to compare them if one were to place Ruth in the modern day and see how he compares to Pujols, because the quality of play has consistently increased; thus, Ruth wouldn't be as impressive.

Same with the Olympic athletes except that it is much more black and white since we can simply use the times and see that Bolt would absolutely crush Owens and would beat Lewis by a decent margin if both were at their best.

#14 mweb08

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 12:39 PM

I too would have to do more research to come up with an answer. Phelps certainly has a great case, though.

One thing that I think has to be considered when looking at his medal count is that if he wasn't in such a strong swimming country, his medal count wouldn't be nearly as impressive. 9 of his medals have come via relays, including 7 gold.

#15 SammyBirdland

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 10:03 AM

Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast who competed in the 1950s and '60s. She won 18 medals and she retains the title of most Olympic medals in individual competition with 14.


Ok, Latynina is officially out of the discussion. Here is one of her gold medal winning vaults compared to one of today's vaults. This makes me rethink everything about sports history. Does this mean Babe Ruth would probably get cut from today's MLB rosters?

Posted Image
¡Hasta la vista, pelota!

#16 Oriole85

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 10:06 AM

Ok, Latynina is officially out of the discussion. Here is one of her gold medal winning vaults compared to one of today's vaults. This makes me rethink everything about sports history. Does this mean Babe Ruth would probably get cut from today's MLB rosters?

Posted Image

CamdenDepot has compared Babe Ruth to Matt Stairs FWIW.
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#17 SportsGuy

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 10:41 AM

I too would have to do more research to come up with an answer. Phelps certainly has a great case, though.

One thing that I think has to be considered when looking at his medal count is that if he wasn't in such a strong swimming country, his medal count wouldn't be nearly as impressive. 9 of his medals have come via relays, including 7 gold.

The other side to that is that he is so good, that he is always on the relay teams. Lochte wasn't on all the relay teams for example.

Also, Phelps was able to do short and longer races, in 2 different strokes..not to mention the IM events, where he does all 4 of them.

While I dont think pure medal count should decide who is the best, I am also not willing to hold that against Phelps either.

One thing I will say(and i am far from an olympic historian) is that it seems to me that swimming is around as good as it ever has been because there are so many more countries that are so good right now and, if I am correct on that, that makes Phelps accomplishments even more outstanding.

Its a good debate though and I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer.

Wilbons point about Carl lewis is that he won golds doing 2 completely different events..long jump and the 100M. That may very well be true but is that any different than Phelps swimming the IM events or being so good at freestyle and buttefly, 2 totally different strokes?

#18 mweb08

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 11:46 AM

Ok, Latynina is officially out of the discussion. Here is one of her gold medal winning vaults compared to one of today's vaults. This makes me rethink everything about sports history. Does this mean Babe Ruth would probably get cut from today's MLB rosters?

Posted Image


Again, that doesn't take her out of the discussion imo. She was dominant for her time, which is the only way to properly judge an Olympian imo.

50 years from now are we going to disqualify Phelps from the conversation because he'd get destroyed by swimmers of the day?

#19 SBTarheel

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 02:39 PM

LeBron?



;)
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#20 SammyBirdland

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 06:49 PM

Again, that doesn't take her out of the discussion imo. She was dominant for her time, which is the only way to properly judge an Olympian imo.

50 years from now are we going to disqualify Phelps from the conversation because he'd get destroyed by swimmers of the day?


Bull. Latynina needs to take that junior high garbage home! ;)

I want to see the booger-eaters that she beat with that junk.
¡Hasta la vista, pelota!




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