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Olympics2012Michael Phelps cements his greatness

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 10:00 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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In overall performance and sheer success American swimmer Michael Phelps dwarfs every Olympic athlete in history. (Al Bello/Getty Images) In overall performance and sheer success American swimmer Michael Phelps dwarfs every Olympic athlete in history. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

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No Olympic athlete has ever had the drive, dominance and success as American swimming legend Michael Phelps. It's those attributes that make him the greatest Olympian of all time.
Days before American Michael Phelps started on his journey to becoming the most decorated Olympian off all time, the swimming legend used a popular ice cream analogy for his reasons in competing at a fourth Games.

"It is really how many toppings do I want on my sundae? That's what I'm doing."

Well, those add-ons haven't exactly been crumbled brownies and chocolate syrup with the way things have been going thus far, but Phelps accomplished the only thing that was missing from his momentous medal haul on Tuesday.

As part of the men's 4x200-metre relay team, he anchored the last leg en route to a gold-medal win. The victory gave the 27-year-old his record-setting 19th Olympic medal, breaking the 48-year mark set by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, who earned 18.

Phelps actually equalled the record earlier in the day, although getting beat in his signature event - the 200m butterfly - wasn't his ideal way to making history.

Naturally the moment Phelps eclipsed Latynina, the greatest Olympian debate heated up.

CBCSports.ca wanted readers to weigh in, with just a little more than 51 per cent giving Phelps the nod in an online vote.

When discussing such a topic, the names Latynina, Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens and gymnast Nikolai Andrianov are inevitably mentioned. All are great choices, no question.

Yet in performance and sheer success, Phelps dwarfs them all.

Let's start with results. Currently the Baltimore native has 15 gold medals - a number that should grow with three more events left on the schedule - and is six clear of Latynina, Spitz, Lewis and distance runner Paavo Nurmi.

"Olympians are judged on their results and he's the best," said CBC Sports swimming expert Byron MacDonald. "You can't take away what he's done. He's established himself as the greatest ever."

Greatness goes beyond numbers

His greatness, however, goes much further than pure numbers. No Olympic athlete has ever dominated his or her sport like Phelps.

When Phelps was just 19, he already was gunning for Spitz's record of seven gold medals he set at the 1972 Munich Games.

All Phelps did in Athens eight years ago was whet his appetite by winning six.

A more focused and supremely fit Phelps returned to best Spitz with eight golds in Beijing.

Think about that: those eight gold medals would've ranked him tied with Italy for ninth place in 2008.

It wasn't an accident. Talent alone doesn't turn an Olympic athlete into an icon.

Up until the conclusion of the Beijing Games, Phelps trained seven days a week year-round, including Christmas, for about 15 years.

Coach Bob Bowman puts it best when discussing his prized pupil's greatest attribute.

"His ability to focus under pressure," he said. "If you checked off everything you wanted in a superstar athlete, he has all those," while Bowman was also checked off family support and an unmatched work ethic.

London has been disappointing for Phelps. He's "only" won a gold and two silver medals through four events.

Some feel Phelps has lost it. Realistically it's the lack of training during the last four years that's caught up with him.

Phelps simply dedicated the Olympic year to a full regiment, so the lacklustre results - by his standards - shouldn't be shocking.

"You have to train hard the year before the Olympics so that you're in such amazing condition that in the Olympic year when you step it up you can go to another level," said MacDonald. "If you just pick it up in an Olympic year all you're doing is staying behind everybody else. You have to pick it up two years ahead of time."

Even the best can have his fill.

With files from The Associated Press

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