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Michael Phelps: Greatest Olympian, but not champion

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The legend of Michael Phelps only grew during the Rio Olympics as he added more medals to his collection. In doing so the question was asked once again, “is he the greatest champion ever”? That’s a tough question considering we ask this every time an athlete repeats a magical performance with one bigger than the previous one.

In Phelps case, wins, not just Olympic. He now has 83; that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for any athlete but when I compare them to others who may fall into the greatest conversation he has a slight edge over them. Swimming is mostly a 2-4 year event, and to be honest, we only get excited over Phelps in that time frame. We’re not in front of a TV every Sunday watching Phelps like we do Tom Brady or every other night like we did Jordan. Some throw Muhammad Ali into the mix, but he fought maybe 2-3 fights a year, but when you begin to look into the other sports like Soccer, basketball, football, golf, and tennis, you see there are more chances for those players to win because it’s more events.

In Golf there are over 30 PGA Tour events in a calendar season, NHL has 82 games, NBA 82 games, Tennis has another 30+, you get where I’m going. What Phelps has accomplished over his career is rather amazing but how does it rank him higher than Tiger Woods or Serena Williams? Do medals including Olympics define Phelps greatness? Phelps has 83 wins (1st, 2nd, 3rd place combined) and that’s downright astonishing but then you look at Woods who has over 70 wins, not 1-3 finishes but wins, and yet some still wish to rank Phelps ahead of him. Williams has 94 career titles to her name, once again, due to the Olympic hype here comes that Phelps name again.

What makes what Tiger and Serena have done more prolific over Phelps is that it was done numerous times over a year, not spread out as swimming is. I can’t take anything away from swimming as I have tried to swim an Olympic-sized pool, got halfway through and gave up. That takes power, and I don’t have it, but if you get to train for an event every two years, then you’re not really on the same playing field as the other athletes some are comparing him to. Is Phelps a great swimmer, competitor, Olympian, and champion? Yes, but is he the greatest champion? No.

The hype comes around every few years, and that’s not enough to put him in a group with Serena or Tiger. Sorry Phelps.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com