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Michael Phelps’ Olympic Greatness Will Never Be Outdone

Michael Phelps Photo via Getty Images

The world of sports have gifted us some incredible moments, milestones which will stand the ultimate test of time. We’ll never again see anybody hit a baseball in 56 consecutive games like great Joe DiMaggio, nor will we come close to seeing a college basketball team do what UCLA did by winning 10 of 12 titles from 1964 to 1975.

They say records are meant to be broken but there are certain ones, like the above, which seem like they will never fall. Michael Phelps’ 28 medals, 23 gold medals and eight for eight performance at the Beijing Olympics from 2008, also undoubtedly fit into that category.

When looking back on the legacy that is Phelps’ Olympic career, the accomplishments of the 31-year-old Baltimore native are staggering and what’s even more impressive is that he earned every single one of his medals in just four Summer Games (he failed to medal in his first Olympics at Sydney in 2000). That’s an average of seven medals and just under six golds per Olympics, which is a major haul in and of itself.

If Michael Phelps were a country by himself, his 23 gold medals would rank him 32nd all-time on a list of some 200-plus countries to compete at the Olympic Games. That’s more than Ethiopia, Jamaica, North Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Austria and many more. He reached those heights competing in just one sport and just five summer games. Perhaps more impressively however, since 2004 when Phelps won his first ever Olympic race, only 12 countries have won more gold medals than he has, including Spain, Brazil and Canada just to name a few.

On the total medal list, Phelps would rank 47th if he broke away from the U.S. and formed Phelpsville or Phelpsburg or something of the like. That is better than 160 countries, 87 of which have made at least one podium in the 120 years of the Olympic Games. His 23 gold medals is an incredible five more than any athlete of any country has in any color as Larisa Latynina totals 18 in gymnastics. Of the men, his gold total is eight more than another Soviet gymnast, Nikolai Andrianov, who has 15.

But it doesn’t stop there. Phelpsvania’s five gold medals would rank 12th on the medal table for the 2016 Rio Olympics. His six total medals would be good enough for 16th. And at an average height of 3.3′ per medal, his 28 medals are taller than he is, standing at 7’8 compared to Phelps who is a mere 6’4, every inch of that frame being used to out-touch his competitors in some remarkable performances.

Focusing solely on swimming, Phelps’ 23 gold medals is a staggering 14 higher than the second best swimmer of all-time, Mark Spitz, who has just nine. Phelps’ totals from Beijing alone would rank him as the second best swimmer according to the gold standard. Overall, only four other swimmers in history have more than five gold medals and if you added up all of their individual golds against that of Phelps, combined they would still fall short of his total of 13. That’s not even to mention the staggering gap in total medals between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, the second best Olympic swimmer of all-time. It’s 16 and considering the two rivals have shared the pool since Athens, it’s safe to say Phelps is in fact that much better than his own competition and frankly any other competition of any other era.

Usain Bolt once said he was better than Michael Phelps because he never lost a race. That may be true, but at best, he’ll end his career with nine golds in nine races. Again, that’s three years of doing just one better than Phelps did in all of Beijing. Not to mention since Athens, in 29 total races, Phelps has medaled in 28 and has been golden in 23. He may not be perfect like Bolt has been, but if you were to just consider single event dominance, Phelps’ four consecutive golds in the 200 IM is better than Bolt’s three in the 100m sprint. And if the talk is about world records, Phelps set 10 of them and five more that were Olympic and/or American records. Bolt, for as good as he’s been has only set or broken his own record three times.

Taking nothing away from Bolt, who is truly the best to ever lace up a pair of cleats, but long story short, I’d put Phelps’ numbers up against the sprinter’s any day of the week.

Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Bo Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Pele, Carl Lewis, Roger Federer, Ole Einar Bjorndalen (aka “The King of Biathlon,” aka the greatest Olympian you’ve never heard of; seriously, look him up). When all is said and done, Phelps’ name is right up there with the best of this or any other generation. Like those larger than life figures, his greatness will never be surpassed and his legend will never die.

There is no doubt that Michael Phelps will go down in history as the greatest Olympian and one of the greatest athletes of all-time. And it’s really not up for debate because after all, the gold speaks for itself.

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