Phelps: Great, or Greatest?

The debate rages on
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2008 10:50 AM CDT
Michael Phelps of the United States on his way to winning the gold medal in the men's 200-meter individual medley final, Aug. 15, 2008.    (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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(Newser) – Everyone agrees that Michael Phelps is one of the greatest Olympians ever—but is he the greatest? It’s become a hot topic of debate in Beijing, the New York Times reports. Phelps stands alone in the gold medal column, but swimming hands out a lot of medals, and some contend it isn’t as demanding as, say, track and field.

Track legends Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi both have their partisans, who argue that track’s vertical grind is harder than swimming’s horizontal one. Other candidates include Birgit Fischer-Smith, Eric Heiden, and Jesse Owens. Phelps backers not that he’s had to swim more often, at more varied distances, and in every stroke. For his part, Phelps professes indifference. “I just swim,” he says. “I don’t think about it.”