All this debate about Michael Phelps is just ridiculous.
You can’t compare the difficulty of a track & field with swimming. Not unless you’ve done both. And few have. Swimming looks fairly easy until you get into the pool, and few know what it’s like to be an elite level sprinter and how a race only seconds long can take so much out of you.
Yes, swimmers have more “events” they can enter. But so do Track & Field people. People say it’s not the same. That a sprinter in T&F can’t race longer distances. Well guess what guys, it’s the same way in swimming. There are sprinters who only race 50m or 100m. And those that race the middle distance of 200m or the longer 400m. Even the women who do 800m, and men who do 1500m. Very few do more than 1 or 2 distances. And most specialize in a specific stroke. Eric Shanteau is a breaststroker. He is best at the 200 breast. But he also can swim the 100 breast. Same with Brendan Hansen. Nick Thoman does Backstroke. ONLY backstroke. Matt Grevers does backstroke, and sometimes Freestyle. Nathan Adrian is PURELY a Freestyle sprinter. He races the 50m and the 100m, freestyle ONLY.
Then you got Michael Phelps. He’s an anomaly. He can swim all four strokes at an elite level. While he’s rarely swum the breaststroke outside of a medley, he has swum freestyle, backstroke, and his best the butterfly at various distances both the 100 and 200m. In Beijing he swam 100 Fly, 200 Fly, 200 Free, 200 IM (all four strokes), 400 IM, and 3 relays (2 of which he swam Freestyle, and 1 he swam Fly). That’s Olympic medals in 2 different strokes, and 2 medleys where you do all four. It’s like specializing in Javelin and Discus. Like sprinting and doing middle distance.
And don’t say that swimmers don’t need rest between races like T&F people do. It’s BS. Sometimes he only got 30mins between a final and a seminfinal swim, in 2 different distances in two different strokes. They use a lot of the same muscles in completely different ways. And Phelps’ ability to do a tough double is unsurpassed in swimming.
Look at Missy Franklin. She went to London to swim 7 events. She got 4 Gold, 1 bronze. Didn’t medal twice.
Ryan Lochte, went to London to swim 6 events. He got 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze, and failed to medal once.
Michael Phelps goes to London to swim 7 events. He got 4 gold, 2 silver, and 1 4th place finish. In Beijing he went to swim 8 events, and won 8 golds. What happened with Missy, Ryan, and Michael himself in London PROVES how horribly hard what he did in Beijing really was!
I won’t go into decathletes, they’re awesome athletes skilled in a lot of ways, but there’s a whole news article breaking down exactly why they SHOULDN’T be considered the worlds GREATEST athletes. Because in most of those 10 disciplines, they’re so ‘mediocre’ they wouldn’t make it into the final if they went to compete in the individual event. It’s like Triathlon. They’re great because they do a lot in a short time, that taxes their body so hard! But most triathletes wouldn’t do well in just a bike race, or just a marathon, or just an open water swim. They wouldn’t be competitive in those individual races.
That’s where Michael Phelps is different. He can do the medley, where you swim four different strokes, both at 50m each (200IM) and at 100m each (400 IM). But then he also medals in the 200 Free, the 100 Fly, the 200 Fly, and still has enough in the tank to medal in three different relay races.
No one else can do it like he can. Lochte, as much as I love him, tried and came up short. But Ryan has come closer than any other male swimmer. And if Missy Franklin continues on her trajectory she has a real shot of breaking Michael’s record before she hits 30. She is starting her medal haul at 17. He didn’t start collecting Olympic medals til 19.
So yes, Michael Phelps is, in my opinion, the GREATEST Olympian of all time.