Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Phelps the Greatest?

Eight gold medals in a single Olympics is quite simply phenomenal, but whether that makes Michael Phelps, the greatest ever Olympian is a different matter altogether. The debate of who is the greatest of all time is ubiquitous in arguments on any sport. A year back, people were saying that Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time, but he seems mortal at the moment losing to the likes of Gilles Simon and James Blake and who not. Even if he goes on to win a few more Grand Slams overtaking Pistol Pete in the process, comparing different eras is hardly viable and it would certainly be unfair on Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver or even Sampras for that matter to describe Federer as the greatest ever tennis player, just as it would be on Pele, Maradona, or Best to label Zidane as the greatest ever footballer.

Calling Phelps’ the single greatest Olympic athlete of all time as Mark Spitz has, not only means that Phelps would have to be greater than Usain Bolt, who was remarkable to say the very least in the 100 metres race, or Yelena Isinbayeva who is going from strength to strength in the pole vault, but would also mean that Phelps is greater than a Jesse Owens, a Nadia Comaneci or a Michael Johnson who were all outstanding athletes in their own right. Comparing different eras is bad enough, but comparing different sports is simply unworkable. Comparing the 100m butterfly to the triple jump or to the 110m hurdles is like comparing the paintings of Michelangelo to the compositions of Beethoven or to the writings of Shakespeare. Usain Bolt’s act was equally impressive and for my money was superior to Phelps’ performances in terms of the sheer viewing pleasure that it created. Isinbayeva took women’s pole vault to a whole new level yesterday and in her own words, ‘she no longer considers the record as a world record, but rather as merely a personal best’. Therefore, even terming Phelps’ achievement as the best at the Beijing Olympics will be unfair to the likes of Bolt and Isinbayeva who have performed remarkably in their respective events. It is difficult enough to call Phelps the greatest swimmer of all time, calling him the greatest Olympian of all time is in my opinion excessive and unjust.

No doubt Phelps’ success is one of gargantuan proportions. Winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics is no joke and he practically made it look like a walk in the park. Matt Slater of the BBC says that whilst Phelps, Schumacher, Woods and many more besides could all still be the greatest, it is a difficult argument to make stick for most people, which is why the majority inevitably come back to more accessible sports. I am not however too sure if even in a sport such as football, it is quite so uncomplicated to call someone as the greatest of all time. I for one would certainly decline any opportunity to christen anyone as the greatest Olympian of all time, but if I was asked about my favourite athlete at the Beijing Olympics, I would without hesitation point to Yelena Isinbayeva whose grace and elegance with the pole and her ability to churn out world records for fun is beyond belief. Michael Phelps, eat your heart out.

1 comment:

Rahul Saha said...

Bolt is my favorite athlete this time round.No question.