Fri, September 20, 2013

Phelps not the greatest Olympian in everyone's eyes

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps looks up after his men's 200-metre individual medley heat during the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 1, 2012. (JORGE SILVA/Reuters)



LONDON - He may not be the only and obvious answer to the GOAT question — Greatest Olympian of All Time — but isn’t it with Michael Phelps that the discussion must begin?

Sure the U.S. swimmer hasn’t been the dominant star he was four years ago and some will forever harp that the volume of medals handed out in swimming makes them less precious than other sports. But 19 is 19, more than any athlete and a total that is sure to climb over the final three nights of the 2012 Olympic swimming meet.

There were no medal races for Phelps here at the Aquatics Centre on Wednesday night, but he will attempt to add to his total of 15 gold, two silver and two bronze on Thurssday after moving on through the heats of the 200-metre individual medley.

But is Phelps the clear No. 1 GOAT, an acronym sweeping across the British press the past couple of days?

Seb Coe, the former Olympic champion distance runner and head of the London organizing committee sureluy stirred the controversy on Wednesday when he said that Phelps wouldn’t top his list.

“I think you can probably say that, clearly, self evidently, in medal tally he’s the most successful,” Coe said at his daily press briefing. “My personal view is I am not sure he is the greatest, but he is certainly the most successful. That goes without saying.

“This is the global pub game: Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? (Winning 19 medals) is a pretty good haul, but whether he is the greatest, I don’t know. But you have to say he’s up there.”

Many will no doubt agree with Coe’s opinion, following the anti-Phelps faction logic that he has so many options to compete, including multiple races. Give Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt a 50-metre event (or 25 for that matter) or a backwards sprint, as the musing goes, and his total could climb as well.

The woman whose record Phelps beat on Tuesday night — Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina who won 18 medals, nine of them gold — would also be in the discussion.

Around these parts, there is a love affair with Steve Redgrave, the brilliant British rower who won gold medals at five consecutive Games, a record of longevity that is impressive - just ask him.

“With 15 gold medals he already has to be listed as one of the finest Olympic athletes ever,” Redgrave wrote in a column for The Telegraph on Wednesday. “ Yet I still believe his feat would have been more impressive if he achieved it over six or seven Games.”

Redgrave’s feat was remarkable — and that last gold was won when he was 38 years old. The pub debate on that count, however, would counter that it’s silly to suggest that a swimmer could possibly maintain such world-class form over nearly two decades.

American track and field enthusiasts would build a strong case in any “pub” debate for Carl Lewis who had five sprint golds in his career — an incredible run in a most competitive field -— and won the long jump in four consecutive Olympics. It’s a solid argument too, giving the depth of competition.

But over time, once the moments of vulnerability he has shown here are evaluated in the context of his entire body of work, the Phelps legacy is sure to grow to match his 6-foot-7 wing span, among the many physical attributes that have allowed him to reach such heights.

OUR WRITER'S PICKS

Here's what the members of our Olympic team think

ROB LONGLEY: Michael Phelps

The 15 gold is a staggering number and winning eight in one Games as Phelps did four years ago Beijing was a work of wonder. His Athens and London contributions are worthy bookends to that feat.

STEVE SIMMONS: Jesse Owens

Under the backdrop of Hitler Germany, an African-American, Jesse Owens not only won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he did so in a dominant way. He won gold in the 100 metres, the signature event of every Olympics, and gold in 200 metres, the 100-metre relay and the long jump.

STEVE BUFFERY: Osamu Watanabe

Japanese wrestler, won freestyle gold medal at home Olympics in 1964 — giving up zero points during the tournament! More impressively, he retired afterward with an unbeaten record of 186-0 (without having given up any points through any of his matches — incredible) making him the only modern Olympian in any style of wrestling to go unbeaten throughout the entirety of his career.

CHRIS STEVENSON: Jesse Ownens

Sometime the backdrop to an athletic performance adds to the depth of the accomplishment. Owens ran down Hitler’s racist propaganda right on Nazi turf.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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