Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Phelps greatest Olympian? He's not even close

Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian?

Some say YES:
 As expected, Americans positively gush that he is:
Yet some say NO.
I too say no. Great swimmer, absolutely. Greatest Olympian? Not even close.

Most significantly, swimming has away more chances for medals than any sport except gymnastics. Hence medal QUANTITY is meaningless for swimmers.

Moreover, body size and shape play a big role in swimming success. Being tall with long arms and flippers for feet is a big advantage.

Witness Aussie Ian Thorpe at 6'5'' with size 17 feet. He won 5 Olympic gold medals, and with 3 gold and 2 silver, was the most successful athlete at the 2000 Summer Olympics. 

Phelps is tall (6'4''), arms are extra-long, legs are relatively short, reducing water's drag, feet are large (size 14), and double-jointed ankles increase a flipper effect. His speed, as for many swimmers, is intrinsically linked to physical attributes as opposed to pure skill.

As of 1 August 2012 Phelps has 19 medals (of which 11 are individual):
  • 2004: 8 medals (5 individual): 6 Gold, 2 Bronze (3 were team medals)
  • 2008: 8 medals (5 individual): 8 Golds (3 were team medals) 
  • 2012: 3 medals to date (1 individual): 1 Gold, 2 Silver (2 were team medals)
In 2012 he has a chance to win 3 more medals (1 a team medal), which could bring his amazing but meaningless total to 22 medals.

Upon what should we base greatest Olympian? Possibilities:

1. Individual medals in multiple Olympics?
* Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn. All 12 medals in 3 Olympics were individual:
  • 3 Gold, 1 Silver (1920), 5 gold (1924), 1 gold & 2 Silver (1928) 
2. Individual medals over multiple Olympics? 
* Steve Redgrave, the British rower who won 6 medals (5 gold, 1 bronze) in five consecutive Olympics between 1984 and 2000.

3. Medals at both summer and Winter Olympics?
Clara Hughes, the Canadian who won multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games.

Indeed, Clara holds the highest number of medals (6) of any Olympian to win medals in both Summer and Winter Olympics. And London 2012 is her sixth Olympics.

Clara's record:

* 2 bronze in cycling (1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta)
*   [no medals at 2000 Summer Olympics, Sydney]
* 1 bronze in speed skating (2002 Winter Olympics)
* 1 gold in speed skating (2006 Winter Olympics, Turin)
* 1 silver in speed skating (2006 Winter Olympics, Turin)
* 1 bronze in speed skating (2010 Olympics, Vancouver)
*   [no medals at 2012 Summer Olympics, London]

Clara competed in her 6th Olympics at age 39 in London, 2012, despite fracturing a vertebrae last year. Best finish in London was 5th in the cycling time trials.

As always, after the race Clara smiled and honestly assessed her performance.

Clara Hughes epitomizes the Olympic spirit, donating $10,000 of her own money to Right to Play after her 2006 gold medal win and becoming actively involved in the organization. Unlike glitzy Olympians who earn millions, Clara had no medal bonuses or big sponsors.

She also suffered from depression and went public to help others:
Folks, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Olympics is not about the medals. Sure, they're nice to win but only icing on the cake. Swimmers routinely rack up huge medal counts. Doesn't mean anything.

Sadly, we all tend to become nationalistic at Olympic time. Some nations are more prone than others, regardless of the sporting event:
My choice for greatest Olympian is Canadian Clara Hughes. No where near the total medal count of Michael Phelps or several others. But frankly, she's about as good as the Olympics gets.

Think about it....

As always, comments are most welcome.

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