Michael Phelps: the Greatest Olympian of All Time
The phenomenon that is Michael Phelps.
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Born June 30, 1985 in Baltimore Maryland, Michael Phelps is the youngest of three children of Fred Phelps, who worked for the Maryland State Police and Debbie Davisson Phelps, who is a middle school principal. His two elder sisters, Hilary and Whitney were excellent swimmers with the latter almost qualifying for the US national team for the 1996 Summer Olympics. After his parents divorced in 1994, he, along with his two sisters, was brought up by their mom.
As a boy, Phelps was diagnosed as having ADHD or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So he began to learn swimming at the age of seven, due in part to his sisters’ influence and in part to find him an outlet for his seemingly boundless energy. He did extremely well as a swimmer that by age ten, he held several national records for his age group.
When Phelps was eleven, Coach Bob Bowman spotted his potential, observing how he determinedly swam through an injury to victory. While Bowman recognized Phelps’ energy and resolve to be important competitive qualities, not everyone saw such potential in the youngster. In fact, one of his middle school teachers commented that he will never be successful.
Anyway, Phelps would not disappoint. By age fifteen, he qualified for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, becoming the youngest American male swimmer to participate at the Olympics in sixty-eight years. Though he did not win a medal, he did make the finals and finished fifth in the 200m butterfly. Five months following the Sydney Games, he broke the world record in the same event to become the youngest man to set a swimming world record at fifteen years and nine months.
At the 2004 Athens Games, Phelps had the opportunity of breaking Mark Spitz’ record total of seven gold totals won in the 1972 Munich Games, by competing in eight swimming events: the 200m freestyle, the 100m butterfly, the 200m butterfly, the 200m individual medley, the 400m individual medley, the 4×100m freestyle relay, 4×200m freestyle relay, and the 4×100m medley relay. However, he went on to win gold medals in all events except the 4×100m freestyle relay and the 200m freestyle, both in bronze medal position. Though he fail to match or surpass Spitz’s record, he did win eight medals in a single Olympics, an achievement previously achieved by the Soviet Gymnast Alexander Dityatin at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, there was great hype on another possibility of Phelps’ breaking Mark Spitz’ record. But Phelps hardly ever mentioned the record as his Olympic goal, spurring the media and his sponsor Speedo to offer one million dollars to stir up excitement over the possibility. It turns out that his goals were even grander, that is, not only to win all eight of his events but also to perform all with personal best times. And this he did!
Phelps opened the swimming competition with a win in his very first event, the 400m individual medley, and went on to win the 200m individual medley, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 4×100m medley relay, and both the 4×100m and 4×200 freestyle relays, eight in total.
His seven golds came in world record times. In the 100m butterfly, he almost missed the gold by a margin of just one one-hundredth of a second, setting an Olympic record. All in all, he swam seventeen times over nine hectic days, watchfully evaluating his effort and always shining the brightest when it most mattered.
“Epic. It goes to show you that not only is this guy, the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.” – Mark Spitz (on Phelps winning his seventh gold medal)
For the ferociously competitive Phelps, there is a satisfaction that comes from proving his doubters wrong. With respect to his spectacular demonstration of swimming supremacy with historic eight gold medals at the Beijing Games, Phelps exclaimed that his every Olympic aim was achieved.
Phelps, en route to surpassing Mark Spitz’ 1972 record seven gold medals at one Games, ascended to the top of Olympic greatness, matching and then outstripping the record nine career gold medals of Games legends Spitz, Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, and Larissa Latynina.
At only twenty-three years of age, Phelps has set a record for the total number of medals won by a male Olympian with sixteen. Russian gymnast Nikolai Adrianov has fifteen – seven golds, five silvers and three bronzes in 1972, 1976, 1980 Games – had held the mark. Only Larissa Latynina’s eighteen career medals exceed Phelps’ total.
Michael Phelps, a restless kid who found an outlet for his energy in the water, has emerged from the pool as the greatest Olympian of all time, a feat that may never be seen again.
More articles on Greatest Athletes series:
- (Almost) Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Male Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- Greatest American Female Gymnasts
- Greatest American Male Gymnasts
- 10 Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time
- 10 Greatest Male Figure Skaters of All Time
Articles on the Olympics:
- Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Moments of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
- Unforgettable Moments of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
- Michael Phelps: The Greatest Olympian of All Time
Golden Olympic Performances:
- Men Singles Figure Skating
- Ladies Singles Figure Skating
- Men’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise
- Men’s Gymnastics – Pommel Horse
- Men’s Gymnastics – Still Rings
- Men’s Gymnastics – Horizontal Bar
- Men’s Gymnastics – Parallel Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Uneven Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Balance Beam
- Women’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise