Sunday, August 5, 2012

Shut up, Bob Costas.

I am oh so tired of the ageless Bob Costas stating opinions as facts.  The one that he has repeated so many times and that is going to be the focus of this blog is that "Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of All-Time".  I think it is very unfair to athletes in every other discipline to say such a thing.  Here is an example of a fact that Mr. Costas could use instead "Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of All-Time" or even "Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic Swimmer of All-Time".  I don't want to try and undermine Phelps achievements.  He is great.  He won a lot of medals.  I really just want to highlight how hard it is for athletes in other disciplines to win this many medals.

We will start with Usain Bolt.  In order for Bolt to accumulate 22 medals he would have to win the 100, 200, 400, 4x1, and 4x4 in 4 straight Olympics.  Then he would still be left with 20.  He could try and pull a Carl Lewis and pull a sprint/jump double.  Or he could stick around for an unheard 5th Olympics for a sprinting male.  Bolt's achievements would also be against a true worldwide field.  Notice how many of Phelps' finals were 7/8 Americans or Europeans and maybe one Asian.  Swimming is a white man's sport.  It has been said that 1/3 of all Americans and 1/2 of the whole world can't swim much less do it fast.  The percentage of people who can run is very high.  And sometime throughout life, most everybody who can run has participated in some form of a race.  Even a game of tag could be considered a race.  I remember running the shuttle run and half mile runs all through elementary school but I never remember being timed swimming.

Now, using Bolt as an example was bad because he does have the opportunity to win so many medals compared to some other athletes.  How about Wrestlers, Marksmen, Cyclists, Archers, Martial Artists, Volleyball players, etc?  They have have a very limited number of medals they can win.  In my opinion, it is much more impressive if someone who has one opportunity to win gold per Olympics and they do it 4 times in a row than for someone like Phelps who can enter a seemingly unlimited number of events.

Speaking of said events, there are 4 events and 2 relays at 100m.  5 events and another relay at 200m as well as one at 50 and 2 at 400.  Now, I realize that 100m in the water is different than 100m on land but still.  This is like having a regular 100m dash in athletics then adding a backwards 100, a crabwalk 100m, and a  sideways 100.  Then adding a backwards 4x100.  Then adding a 40m dash for those that find the 100m too long.  Then adding a 4x2 and 4 more variations of that event.  Why in the world would you want to swim the butterfly, breaststroke, or backstroke when you could freestyle?  They are slower and harder!  The number of opportunities for swimmers to win medals compared to every other sport is pretty ridiculous when you put it that way. 

Now, another of my pet peeves is when people whine about something but have no better solution.  To avoid being a hypocrite, I am going to offer up some solutions for who might be the best Olympian ever.

Carl Lewis, this man won 4 consecutive Gold Medals in the Long Jump and had also qualified for the 1980 games which the US boycotted.  Outside of his LJ medals, Lewis won 5 other golds and one silver.  That is a solid winning percentage.  Also, Lewis won the LJ, 100, 200 and 4x100 in the same Olympics.  For those of you who aren't familiar with athletics, nobody jumps and sprints.  For someone to win gold in both of those events is just crazy.  Back to swimming, this is like Phelps winning a diving event to go with his swimming medals.

Lewis' predecessor, Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in front of Adolph Hitler in 1936 as a black man in Nazi Germany.  He won the same 4 as Lewis in 1992.  Oh yea, and Owens was an amateur.  That means he wasn't able to compete in another Olympics because he didn't have the money and no one to support him.  This is a huge advantage that Phelps has over many Olympians from the past.  Professional athletes weren't allowed into the Olympics until the 70s and not completely until 1988.  The man whom Phelps surpassed as far as golds in one Olympics, Mark Spitz, was an amateur.  His career was ended in his prime at the age of 22 because he couldn't make a living swimming.  He won 4 medals in 1968 and certainly would have had the chance to win 11 more at the following 2 Olympics had he been professional.  Not only is Phelps a professional now, he won't have to work a day in his life after retiring after these Olympics.  His agent stated a goal for 100 million dollars in endorsements.

Another possibility is Emil Zatopek.  The man won the 5000, 10000, and Marathon in the same Olympics.  He also added a silver and golf in the previous Olympics and won the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.  That's gotta count for something, right?  I'm not going to dis on swimmers to much but the potential for injury in that sport is much lower than most other sports.  Especially distance running.

How about Aleksander Karelin?  Remember the wrestler that Rulon Gardner beat?  The guy won 3 golds and was undefeated for 13 years.  He didn't give up a single point for 6 years in a row.  The man only was able to win 1 gold per Olympics.  And this is in a contact sport full of injury potential.

Edorardo Mangiarotti competed from 1936 to 1960 and won 13 medals in fencing.

Al Oerter won 4 Golds in the Discus, Phelps won't even compete in 4 Olympics.

Steve Redgrave of Great Britain, won 5 golds in 5 games.  5 for 5!  Or Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc who won 6 in 6?

How about Clara Hughes?  She won 2 medals in cycling and 3 medals in speedskating at the winter Olympics!

What about Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt and their historic sprint doubles?

Or how about the woman that Phelps supassed as the most decorated, Larisa Latynia.  I would argue that there are less opporunities to win medals in gymnastics than swimming.  I would also argue that gymnastics has less longevity than swimming.  It is impressive that Latynia even made it to 3 Olympics.  Where are Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson?  It has hard to keep competitive in a sport that requires hours upon hours of practice and favors a certain body type that is much more prevalent on a 16 year old than a mid-20 year old.

I just really feel that it is premature to call Phelps the greatest Olympian ever.  He is very good.  And he does have the most medals.  But he does have advantages over the Olympians of the past and over Olympians in other disciplines.  I really just wish Bob would stop voicing opinions as fact on national tv.  

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment or two.  By comments, I don't want you to say "Your stupid" (notice how I spelled you're wrong) or make some comment on my grammar.  I just typed this up quick to get it posted.


Peter Snell said...

Right on Kyle. Look at all the swimmers who have won at least 5 events in one Olympics - Scholander, Spitz, the Albatross among them. As you say Phelps should be referred to as the greatest swimmer not the greatest Olympian.

Joe Alanes said...

I agree with you completely. So many athletes, like Soccer and Basketball players, play multiple games in Round Robin tournaments, over many days, to compete for one gold medal. Yet, they do just as much work, if not more, than swimmers. In Swimming, there are multiple races, all for medals. So, the number of medals is not a true measure of the greatest olympian. It would be like saying Kobe Bryant is a better athlete than Peyton Manning because he has scored more total points. The standards of measurement are different.

Also, there are many athletes who have inspired so many in the Olympics who have not won any medals, like the Track and Field athlete with no legs. Just using the number of medals to measure the "greatest" takes away from the true spirit of the Olympics. He can call him the most decorated, or arguably, the best Olympic swimmer, but it's annoying how he keeps using "greatest Olympian" in a cheesy, overdramatic way. It minimizes the accomplishments and inspiring stories of so many other Olympians. Thanks for the post.