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Summer Olympics 2012: Michael Phelps' Place in History Secure

John RozumCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2017

Summer Olympics 2012: Michael Phelps' Place in History Secure

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    No matter how Michael Phelps performs at the 2012 Summer Olympics, the man has enjoyed an illustrious career that cannot be defined in words.

    The upcoming London Games, however, provide him with an opportunity to become the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. Based on Phelps' current stature compared to other elite Olympians though, a disappointing showing at these Summer Games won't put a damper on everything he's accomplished.

    Still, don't expect Phelps to just go through the motions in London either. With a chance at history once again, it's a safe bet that Phelps performs emphatically well.

    Now, let's take a look at why his place among the greatest athletes ever is already solidified.

     

    All-time medalists courtesy of Olympic.org.

Career at a Glance

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    Before we compare Phelps' accomplishments to his predecessors, let's take a quick look at everything the Olympian has achieved.

    With 16 medals to his credit, 14 are gold and two are bronze.

    Revert back to the 2000 Summer Olympics and a 15-year-old Phelps qualified for the 200-meter butterfly final. Although he failed to medal with a fifth-place finish, Phelps now has a won gold 82.3 percent of the time when making the finals of an Olympic event.

    In short, there's no room for second-place. And in having won all his medals in the previous two Summer Games, Phelps' ability to collect so fast is what's arguably most impressive. Once you include all his other [gold] medals from other international competitions and Phelps is easily among the best ever.

Career Comparisons

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    Fellow U.S. Olympian Mark Spitz is tied with three other athletes for nine gold medals all time.

    Whether it's the Summer or Winter Games, no one has more golds than Phelps and it's going to be a while before anyone enters the discussion of catching him. When compared to the most elite of Olympians ever though, Phelps comes in second place (right now) to Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina.

    Overall, Latynina has won 18 Olympic medals to Phelps' 16. However, she has just nine golds and will likely get past by Phelps during the London Games.

    The next American after Phelps is Jenny Thompson with 12, and she's 10th overall in all-time medals. By the end of the 2012 Summer Olympics Phelps could potentially own 23 medals. Just wow.

Nothing Left to Prove

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    Having accomplished so much and being among the select few in the "Greatest Olympians of All-Time" discussion, there's really nothing left for Michael Phelps to prove.

    The glass half-full argument here though, is that with nothing to prove there's also no pressure. And even if Phelps' disappoints in London, can we really discount everything he's done up to now?

    No, because that would be absurd and he still would be considered arguably the best Olympian ever. It would be unfair to argue his career is tarnished for not surpassing Larisa Latynina for No. 1 all-time regarding medals won.

    Twelve years ago, Phelps was only 15 and he made the finals. Sure we hold athletes like him to a higher standard and rightfully so, but that does not and will not ever take away from his career achievements.

    If anything, his teammates are the ones with something to prove.

Pressure on Ryan Lochte

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    Ryan Lochte is expected to challenge and potentially best Michael Phelps each time they face off in London.

    Well, regardless of how many times Lochte wins/medals he still has a long way to go before catching Phelps. Entering the 2012 Games, Lochte has six Olympic medals and three of which are gold.

    If he wants any shot at coming near Phelps' career accomplishments, Lochte must win gold in all of his individual events and relays. A disappointing performance from Lochte will leave the "what if" mark when compared to Phelps, because he is the one still building a career resume.

    Now, Lochte is definitely one of the best American Olympians and swimmers of all time. To that end, there's no other option but winning gold in order for him to join the best Olympians discussion.

    Just as the pressure was on Phelps in Beijing, that torch has now been passed to Lochte who needs an equally dominating performance in London.

What to Expect in London

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    More medals is what we can expect in London.

    Having previously touched on Phelps' career and why there's no pressure to perform at the upcoming Summer Games, motivation still exists.

    And it exists in the form of an opportunity to become the No. 1 medal count leader of all-time. No pressure and nothing left to prove just gives Phelps a major league advantage.

    All a disappointing performance means is that he remains No. 2 behind Larisa Latynina. In addition, a disappointing performance could also mean winning just three medals instead of seven.

    Well, that would move him past Latynina and into the top spot. The point is that Phelps doesn't have to put on a Beijing 2008 performance to become the all-time leader. Nevertheless, fully anticipate Phelps vying for gold in each event because the 2012 Summer Games are expected to be his last.

    In an article by Ben Eagle in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Phelps stated:

    I've always said I don't want to swim past 30 and I know if I go one more, I'll be over 30. 

    For me, I'm not going to be out of the sport; I'm just going to be out of it competitively.

    It's his last competition, and the only pressure facing Phelps will be how much he puts on himself.

     

    Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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