The swimmer Michael Phelps may have won the most number of Olympic gold medals ever at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, but does that qualify him to be called the greatest ever Olympian?
Being the world’s major sporting event, the Olympics has had its share of champions and success stories. It is always difficult to compare athletes of different sports yet alone different eras. Other notable Olympic Champions which would give him a run for his money in the best ever category include Carl Lewis (U.S., track and field), Paavo Nurmi (Finland, track and field), Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union, gymnastics), Birgit Fischer-Schmidt (Germany, kayak), and Steven Redgrave (United Kingdom, rowing). Probably others too.
Comparing Phelps to Mark Spitz is the easiest as it is in the same sport, and Phelps wins that comparison. The flaw in this argument is using the number of gold medals as the benchmark, as swimming has more medals on offer than most other sports, consequently, it is relatively easier to pick up a bag of medals.
Phelps may well be the greatest ever, but I think it is too close to call. Let’s just wait until he finishes his career. If he does the same again in London 2012, then there may be no question about him being the greatest ever.