Michael Phelps' goofy ass has done it. He won 8 gold medals in swimming at this years Olympics, the most golds ever won in a single Olympics, and broke the record for the most gold medals of all time. And he did it for the US of effing A. (face clenched and hand in a rock on pose.)
I'll give Mike Phelps his props. That is some impressive shi. I can't even hardly swim. I've almost drowned on numerous occasions and was the only boy at Scout Camp on Bear Lake that had to finish the Swimming Merit Badge at a local pool because he couldn't do it in the lake. (see photo of Swimming Merit Badge below)
With his impressive array of swimming techniques,(my favorite, and the one I'm clearly the best at being the breast stroke) the Phelps hype machine is going full tilt. I have been listening to sports talk radio the last few days and have really been astounded by some of the things that I have heard. Respected national media have been saying some things that really make me scratch my head. Callers and announcers are lauding this guy like he's the second coming of JC himself. I even heard a few people call Phelps the greatest athlete of all time.
Whoa. Stop right there.
The greatest swimmer of all time? Certainly. The greatest athlete of all time? I think not.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think the best athletes in the world play Football (American and Soccer) and Basketball. These athletes have an amazing combination of size, speed, strength, hand to eye coordination, smarts, endurance, etc. Swimming is much simpler. I won't be convinced that LaDainian Tomlinson couldn't be a world class sprinter, swimmer, long jumper, shooter, gymnast, trampolinist, you name it if that is what he had given his whole focus to as a youth.
The other huge factor is that the best athletes in most countries gravitate to the bigger sports. In most countries around the world it is Soccer. In some it is baseball, and in some it is basketball and football. As big as cycling may be in France, most kids don't grow up wanting to be a cyclist, they grow up wanting to play Soccer for their country or favorite club team.
In America, where I live, most of the kids on the swim team were the nerds who couldn't play Football or Basketball. Even Tennis got better athletes than the swim team.
It's a matter of competition. If there are 75 million kids in a country, and 74 and a half million of them want to play NFL Football, the competition to become an NFL Football player is very high. If only 1 thousand kids want to be Olympic swimmers, there is a lot less competition to make it to the top.
I don't want to take away too much from Phelps' accomplishments. What he did was truly extraordinary. But let's put it in the proper context when we start talking greatest athlete of all time, shall we? After all, it's just swimming.