August 14, 2012
No matter what sports you enjoy watching, the Olympic Games offer sports fans literally hundreds of hours of top-quality competition between many of the greatest sports people on the planet. Over sixteen days of competition, competitors fight for the chance to win medals in over 300 different disciplines. Only the best and most fortunate athletes will win the elusive gold medal and take the acclaim of sports fans worldwide.
In some sports, particularly swimming, cycling, gymnastics and athletics, athletes can enter more than one different discipline and try to win multiple medals. Some of the athletes winning two, three or even more medals in a single Olympic Games can go down in history as the very best of an elite bunch of sports people. Other athletes demonstrate superiority over their rivals by success in multiple Olympic Games and even in completely different events. But which of these elite sportsmen is the greatest athlete of all time?
The single most successful Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps would be on any list of the greatest athletes of all time for his performance at his first Olympic Games in Athens, 2004. In his first Games he won a total of six gold medals and two bronze, including setting one world and two Olympic records. This was the second highest number of medals won by a single person at a Games and Phelps was still only a teenager.
If that was impressive, his performance at Beijing in 2008 was even better. During the course of the meet Phelps entered and won eight different events to become the most-successful Olympian in one Olympic Games. In seven of these events he set a new world record only missing out in the 100meter butterfly.
Phelps announced he would retire after the London Games, and finished his competitive swimming career by taking another four gold medals and two silver medals. The only event he did not win a medal in was his first, the 400m individual medley. This was the first time he did not win a medal since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
With a total of 19 gold medals and 22 in total, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time. It is unlikely that anyone will ever beat the records set by the Baltimore Bullet during his swimming career.
Another great American Olympian, Carl Lewis was one of the most successful track sprinters of all time, and won medals at four different Olympic Games in four different events. He is most famous as a sprinter and was the first man to successfully defend the 100m title when he took the gold medal in Seoul. However, in the actual race he came second behind the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who failed a drugs test and was disqualified. Lewis was also undefeated in the long jump competition for four Olympic Games starting from Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988, Barcelona in 1992 and finally Atlanta in 1996.
The only cloud on his reputation is the specter of performance enhancing drugs. The 1988 100m final was one of the dirtiest races in history with seven of the eight finalists failing drugs tests during their career. Lewis did not escape this stigma and allegedly failed three tests earlier in 1988 but was cleared to compete.
Another sprinter with a claim to be the greatest of all time is the Jamaican superstar who burst onto the global athletic scene with his performance at Beijing in 2008. In the 100m final he broke his own world record for the distance after slowing down in the final 10m to celebrate. He then followed this with a new world record in the 200m running into a headwind and another world record as part of the victorious team in the 4x100m relay.
Bolt became the only man to successfully defend all three of these titles in London to make it a total of six gold medals from six Olympic events. At only 25, Bolt could go on for years to come and the crowd will certainly hope to watch him defend his titles in Rio 2016.
This Ukranian gymnast is the second most successful Olympian of all time, and still holds the records for medals in individual events. At the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Latynina was part of the triumphant Soviet Union team in the team event as well as the victor in the all-round, floor and vault events. A silver on the uneven bars and bronze on team event with portable apparatus made her the most successful gymnast.
This success was repeated at the Rome 1960 games and 1964 to give her a total of nine gold medals. This is level with Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis and Paavu Nurmi and behind only Michael Phelps. Latnina is the most successful female Olympian of all time.
Many of the greatest competitors are only able to enter a single event at the Olympic Games and have to show their will to win over several years. Ben Ainslie is a British sailor who has now taken medals at five different Olympics. Originally starting in the Laser class, Ainslie took a silver medal in Atlanta and a gold medal in Sydney. Before Athens he gained 40lb in weight and moved up to the larger Finn class and took the gold in this class at Athens, Beijing and London making him the first sailor to win medals at five different Olympic Games.
Romero first found success at the Athens Games in 2004 where she won a silver medal in the quadruple sculls rowing event competing for Great Britain. After this she suffered a back injury forcing her to retire from rowing, but was not to be beaten and switched sports to cycling. She made history at the Beijing Games where she won the gold medal in the individual pursuit event at the track cycling making her the first person to win an Olympic medal at two completely different sports.
Her event was dropped from the Olympic program before the London Games, so Romero has now switched sports again and is currently in training for an Ironman Triathlon.
The history of the Olympics has brought many great athletes to worldwide fame. These six are some of the greatest sports stars of all time, but others also have great claims for consideration as one of the best athletes of all time. It is difficult to compare athletes from different sports and times, but it is difficult to argue against Michael Phelps being the greatest of all time.