Lewis or Phelps - Greatest Olympian

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Stick and Ball Guy brought up the issue of who is/was the greatest Olympian: Michael Phelps or Carl Lewis. It’s a pretty good question, one ripe for discussion. SBG falls firmly in the Carl Lewis camp citing evidence that Lewis got his 9 gold medals over a longer time period, track and field is a more “prestigious? (my word, not his) sport, and that his performance in 1984 winning gold medals in the four most glamorous events (the 100, 200, 4X100, and the long jump). SBG also feels that the fact that swimming world records keep falling precipitously means that the sport isn’t as mature as track and field and clearly swimmers haven’t reached the full human potential for that sport. Compelling arguments I have to agree.

In Michael Phelps corner is the fact that he will have more Gold medals, is breaking world records by leaps and bound, as opposed the 1/10th of a second typically found in track records, and is doing his feat in a number of different events (Four of Lewis’ Golds were in the Long Jump). Also one has to wonder if Lewis would have done so well in 1984 if the Soviet Bloc countries had participated. Then again, would Lewis have won any medals in 1980 if the USA hadn’t boycotted those Olympics?

SBG makes a pretty good case for Lewis and right now I have to think he’s right. If Phelps comes back in 2012 and wins another 2-4 Gold Medals then I think it would be difficult not to label Michael Phelps the greatest Olympic Athlete ever.

What do you think?

2 Comments

I'm gonna say Phelps just because the dude's a physical freak of nature.

It's not just that he dominates events, but he is able to do so with much less rest/recuperation time than his competition. How many events did Lewis ever attempt in one Games?

The rest/recovery issue for swimming actually works against Phelps, as there is no way track athletes can compete in events scheduled so closely together - even 3 hours is too short. This argues for track being more demanding.

On the other hand, I don't think the ease-of-setting-world-records issue should be held against Phelps - after all, the athletes he is competing against have most of the advantages he has in terms of training, equipment and facilities. He's not he only one out there breaking records, meaning the talent "pool" is quite deep.

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