Come on, Michael Phelps isn't really THAT great

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Let's stop it now. Michael Phelps has not automatically claimed the title of "greatest Olympian ever" or "best athlete on the planet" just because of his performances over the last week.

First of all, let's face it: the number of gold medals he will ultimately earn will be skewed no matter what the total. See, fortunately for Michael Phelps, his sport has the greatest number of sub-events of any Olympic sport. Kobe Bryant could win 8 gold medals too if they had a 5-on-5 men's basketball tournament, a 5-on-5 tournament with games that were half the length of regulation games, a 3-on-3 tournament, a one-on-one contest, a dunk contest, a lay-up drill, synchronized dribbling, and an open-floor, freestyle jump shot routine. Thus, Phelps is arguably just a beneficiary of a system that provides more events for his sport. Maybe I don't understand the nuances of the 200-m individual medley vs. the 200-m freestyle. But correct me if I'm wrong: both of these are swimming events of equal lengths, are they not? Wouldn't somebody who excels in one 200-m swim be expected to be pretty damn good at another one?

Also, Michael Phelps joins the rest of today's athletes in an era of training labs with advanced computerized biophysical analysis, outstanding nutritional supplements, low-oxygen training tents, and almost certainly steroids that we still don't know how to detect by tests. Thus, like his other colleagues in the realm of elite athletes (e.g. Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc.), he simply cannot be compared to previous generations of athletes. I don't know how many times that argument needs to be made.

Finally, I have to add the other classic but again appropriate argument against the title of "greatest Olympian ever": he's excelling in one sport alone. If he were doing a floor routine in gymnastics tonight and competing in a swim relay tomorrow, maybe he gets consideration then. However, we all know that no one can ever earn the designation of "greatest athlete ever" simply because there is no way to compare people across sports. As Kip says in Napoleon Dynamite, "Come on, Napoleon, like anyone can even know that."

So shut up about Michael Phelps already.

7 comments:

Zuch 4:28 PM  

I would beg to disagree on the comment about their being little difference among the different swimming events. Each of the styles (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly) are greatly different and from personal experience (yes, I used to swim a fair amount before I put on too many pounds) all are very hard except the freestyle. To rotate between them in the same race has to be difficult, as they all test different parts of the body. A lot of swimmers excel in one or two different events/strokes, but Phelps is the rare swimmer that can be the best at all of them.

Iain 4:35 PM  

Still, it's not nearly as impressive as everyone makes it out to be. While it is impessive to make the Olymipics, he's just really good at swiming. People are so specalized at their events they most likely couldn't place in the top twenty in other sports. How bout everyone just appreciate that Michal Phelps has more bling than Atlanta, and will wind up playing Aquaman in the Justice League movie. No stuntman for him!

Vinnie 10:37 PM  

My sentiments exactly, Paul. But I think Steve Nash might be able to take down Kobe in the freestyle layup drill.

Zuch 1:12 AM  

I guess I'll be the lone contrary voice here, but what Phelps is doing is every bit impressive as say the run of Tiger Woods. In many of these races, he faces people strictly focusing on one-two events (swimming five-six times total), while Phelps competes across the board and has seventeen total swims. His fellow American, Ryan Lotche, noticeably slowed tonight when he had the quick transition from the 200 backstroke to the 200 IM. Phelps has made it through these type of transitions, and if he can win a very tough 100 meter fly tomorrow (where he's going up against the current Olympic and world record holders), he will have earned every bit of the attention and praise he'd get.

Patrick 8:25 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick 8:30 AM  

One thing that Phelps can't beat is Mark Spitz's appearance on the Bob Hope Show.

Michael Phelp's performance is beyond remarkable. He is easily one of the world's best athletes and Olympians with the exception of maybe Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis (who was juiced to the gills), and Geb.

You guys are forgetting the fact that he is dominating specialty events. As Zuch said, each event (butterfly, breaststroke, etc) are greatly different. Just to put this in perspective, his performances are equivalent to someone winning the 400-5000 in track and field...a feat that will likely never happen.

And Iain, you made the perfect statement. People are very specialized at their events, which makes it even more impressive that Phelps is dominating so many of them. And lets not forget he has to swim 17 races in 7 days and he is still obliterating world records.

Maybe he isn't the greatest athlete ever (that argurment is certainyl up for debate, for instance Wilt Chamberlin was a stud sprinter in college) but he certainly is making a case to become the greatest Olympic Athlete ever. Let's see what he does in the next two days.

Mike 10:11 AM  

However, I think Paul made a good point in that people really only started this "World's greatest Olympian" talk just based on the quantity of his medals.

In which case, Phelps is only able to win that many medals because his sport allows him to. Even take away the dominating nature of his performances and the quick turn arounds. If he won a medal on the first day of competition, and a medal on the last day of competition, he would still win just as many medals as a Kobe Bryant or a Dwyane Wade could possibly hope to win in 8 years, no matter how dominating their performances.

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