It’s a big question isn’t it?
A question that can cause heated debate around the World; one that will necessarily include a discussion of the merits of such athletes as Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay as he was called when winning gold in Rome 1960) Jesse Owens, Paavo Nurmi, Mark Spitz, Sir Steve Redgrave, Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Sir Chris Hoy to name but a few.
But in terms of medals none can touch Michael Phelps. No-one gets close. In winning gold in this morning’s 200m butterfly and 4 x 200m freestyle relay he took his gold medal tally to 21 (we’ll disregard his two silver and bronze) during an Olympic Career which started back at the Sydney games in 2000. That is 12 more gold medals then his closest rival, Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, and 7 more medals in total. Indeed if Michael Phelps was a country he would be 36th in the list of all time gold medal winners for countries (a list that includes the former East and West Germany). That’s the same as Kenya and more than Brazil, South Africa and India to name but a few.
But can he be considered the greatest ever? Some will argue that he competes in a sport in which there are many more opportunities to win medals but this disregards the fact that he has won medals at 4 Summer Olympics, including an incredible 8 in Beijing alone, surpassing Mark Spitz’s 7 gold haul at the Munich games in 1972, a feat which many thought could never be matched. It also disregards his well-documented trips to rehab and the fact that he has previously retired. Twice.
With 21 golds already in the bag Phelps has the opportunity to compete for two more which could take his total to a surely unsurmountable 23.
Whatever your view as to the greatest ever Olympian, and we’d love to hear them, he’s got to be right up there.
Wait a minute, what’s that you say, someone’s going for a triple, triple…