Phelps is expected to go to the top of the all-time medal winners’ list

Is Michael Phelps the greatest ever Olympian? Many people think he already is or, if not, he could well become the greatest at the end of the London Games where he would be expected to go to the top of the all-time medal winners’ list.

Even before he had finished his engagements in the Beijing Olympic Games many experts and former greats had called him the “greatest Olympian”.

“'Wow, greatest Olympian of all time.’ It’s a pretty cool title,” he had said at that time without joining the debate.

Some people, however, do not think that he is the greatest Olympian despite his collection of 14 gold medals, the most by an athlete, from the Games. The American, nicknamed ‘Baltimore Bullet’, has two bronze medals, too, from the Olympics and has a chance to end up with a total of 23 medals at the end of the London Games. Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina holds the record for the most number of medals won by a competitor in the Olympics, through the course of a career — 18.

Those who differ with the view that Phelps is the greatest, have pointed out the nine gold medals that Paavo Nurmi and Carl Lewis have won in athletics and the impossibility of a track and field athlete taking more than two individual gold medals from a single Games.

Phelps won four individual gold medals in the Athens Olympics and five in Beijing. He is entered in four individual events in London.

Lewis took four long jump titles in a row, from the 1984 Games at home, apart from five other gold medals including relays.

Nurmi, the Flying Finn, had five gold medals in the 1924 Games alone including the 1500m and 5000m within the space of around 90 minutes. His was a story of extreme endurance. There is no doubt Phelps is already the greatest swimmer of all time.

“He’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time,” Mark Spitz was quoted as saying after Phelps bettered his all-time record of seven gold medals in a single Games in Beijing.

Phelps has a wider repertoire of strokes compared to Spitz who swam freestyle and butterfly strokes. Phelps is comfortable with all strokes, weakness if any coming in the breast-stroke.

Obviously he is such a great competitor in the individual medleys. He holds three individual world records and has bettered world records 39 times, more than any other swimmer in the world.

The 27-year-old American, all of 6-foot, 4-inch, has a wing span of 6 feet 7 inches. He consumes 12,000 calories a day, around six times more than a normal male. Eggs, pasta, cheese and ham dominate his menu.

“Eat, sleep and swim, that’s all I can do,” Phelps told US television channel NBC in Beijing back in 2008. We will start counting from medal number 17 when swimming action opens in London on July 28.

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