Carl Lewis > Michael Phelps (At Least for Four More Years)

So now for the question of the moment: Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian ever? He’s won more total gold medals than any other Olympian, and he’s won more gold medals in one Olympics than any other. So, how about it?

The guys at the Yahoo! Sports blog have decided to tackle this question, and I rather agree with their assessment. Not yet. I think Carl Lewis is the greatest – he won gold medals over the course of four Olympics from 1984 to1996. He ran the sprints. He ran relays. He won medals in the long jump. So I’m up for saying that if Phelps can come back in 2012 and win some more gold, then he can be the greatest, but until then, I’m sticking with Lewis.

Some of the Phelps detractors are arguing that since he’s only swimming, and since there are so many swimming events, then it’s easier for him to win medals than it is for other athletes. And anyone who says this is a moron. It’s theoretically possible for this to happen in track – just run the 100-meter sprint, the 200-meter sprint, and the 400-meter. Do the hurdles at various meters, run the relays, then try the long jump – Carl Lewis didn’t run the longer events, but he did the 100-meter, the relay races, and the long jump. This is the equivalent of what Phelps just did, racing at different lengths, and with different strokes.

If you want to argue that Phelps isn’t the greatest Olympian of all time, fine. I’ll listen to the arguments – as I said, I’m sticking with Carl Lewis for the present – but please come up with a better argument than he’s just a swimmer.

And speaking of Phelps, for any of you who didn’t see Friday night’s 100-meter butterfly, here’s some still underwater still photos of the finish from Sports Illustrated. Now you’ll understand what people mean when they say Phelps won by a fingernail.

****************** It seems to me that, at every Olympics, there is a judging controversy in gymnastics. And this time it occurs over the tie-breaking procedure that knocked America’s Nastia Liukin from a tie for the gold medal to the winner of the silver.

I don’t really care about the controversy. I just wanted to use this as a chance to remark upon the class and grace of the U.S. gymnasts. After what has happened, it would be easy for the girls to whine about the scoring, or to allege grand conspiracies like Marta Karolyi, but they have chosen to not go that route, and I find that refreshing.

Sports Illustrated quotes Liukin saying that “I know I didn't have my best routine, but I had the same exact score as she did, which makes it a little harder to take…I still don't understand how they broke the tie, but that's the rules, and you just have to play by them.”

And I appreciate that grace and class.

****************** Let’s give a shout-out to LaPorte’s Kerron Clement who was part of the U.S. medal sweep in the 400-meter hurdles. Clement got the silver. This was the first sweep of the event in the Olympics by a team since the United States pulled off the trick in Rome in 1960.

And Katy’s Cat Osterman teamed with Jennie Finch to lead the U.S. softball team to victory. The 9-0 victory moved the Americans into the medal round. The U.S. has pretty much dominated softball this Olympics – winning six games by shutout with five of the games ended early because of the mercy rule. They have outscored the competition 53-1, and there are still two games left to play. The American’s have pretty much dominated softball in the other Olympics, which is probably why this is the last Olympic competition for softball.

******************* Does anyone else out there think that the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team learned their lesson last night? According to the NBC announcers, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh were having a pre-match workout on one of the practice courts when the Brazilians demanded they leave so they could have the court. May-Treanor and Walsh agreed, then proceeded to kick their asses 21-12, 21-14 in their beach volleyball match (this was the 107th consecutive win). I’m not sure who May-Treanor and Walsh play next, but since it’s for the gold, I’d advise that team to not piss them off beforehand.

******************* Tonight’s Olympic TV brings us the tape-delayed women’s 400-meter finals with America’s Sanya Richards favored to become the first U.S. women to win the 400 since Valerie Brisco Hooks in 1984. The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, will be racing in the 200-meter semifinals (also on tape delay, as are all of the track-and-field events shown in prime time, though, if I’m reading my schedules correctly, there is a chance that America’s Lolo Jones will be trying for the gold in the woman’s 100-meter hurdles during prime time). There will also be some more men and women’s gymnastics, though I’m pretty sure you can also find those scores on the internet today. – John Royal


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