What defines greatness? Is it the ability to conquer all challenges that come your way, or is it to set new records wherever you go? So is greatness defined by the medals you have and the records you hold? For this there is no better example than that of Michael Phelps. The legendary American has been there and done that many times, from smashing records to winning 23 medals overall, and a staggering 19 gold medals out of it, there is, and there can be no doubt over his greatness.
From being the youngest guy to set a world record, to being the most decorated swimmer of all time, Phelps’ dedication to the sport is amazing. Having started out his Olympic career with a gold medal and a world record time in the 400-meter individual medal, perhaps it should not have been a surprise that the 31-year-old is where he is. He won Gold in 6 out of the 8 events that he competed in at the 2004 Olympics, winning Bronze medals in the other two. But perhaps, he will always be remembered for finishing third in the 200-meter freestyle behind Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband.
He will be more fondly remembered at 2008 games in Beijing though, setting a record every time he dived into the pool. It was at these Games that he got ahead of all modern-Olympians for a record haul of 9 medals and won just 8 in those games. It was also a record for most medals at a single Olympics, which had been set by Mark Spitz at the 1972 Olympics. It was an achievement that would cause stir not only among the swimming fraternity but world sport as a whole.
London 2012 was not as great as Beijing, but Phelps had set almost unrealistic expectations. And he nearly fulfilled them as well, winning 6 gold medals to go along with the 2 silver medals and became legend that he is today. While did retire for a brief moment in between, Phelps came back and qualified for Rio 2016, his fifth Olympics overall another record, and was the flag bearer for the American contingent.
Mark Spitz once said of Michael Phelps “Epic. It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.” You cannot help but think that he was right.