Michael Phelps is already one of the greatest Olympians in the Games’ history, but when he leaves London, he will be unanimously viewed as the greatest athlete ever to take part in the event.
Phelps needs just three total medals at these games to set the record for most hardware by an Olympian. He currently has 16 total medals, two behind Russian gymnast Larisa Laytnina’s mark of 18.
His total of 14 gold medals is already a record, with four different athletes tied for second with nine.
Phelps’ results at the Olympics have gone unequaled. He won gold six times and bronze twice at the 2004 Athens Games. Four years later, he put on the must stunning performance in history.
Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing. This remarkable feat was not easy and it featured two spectacularly close victories.
He edged out Milorad Cavic by the narrowest margin possible in the 100-meter butterfly, touching one one-hundredth of a second before the Serbian. Phelps also furiously cheered on Jason Lezak as he completed an epic comeback in the final leg to defeat France in the 4x100-meter relay.
When the closing ceremony started, Phelps had won eight gold medals and set seven world records.
He has claimed that the 2012 games will be his last Olympics. His accolades in the pool support the argument that he is the greatest Olympian ever, but his aloofness and introverted personality will cause some to claim that others deserve the title.
Wild personalities like Hungarian sprinter Emil Zatopek, or people more comfortable with the public spotlight like Carl Lewis are more intriguing than Phelps outside of competition.
Comments like the ones made recently by Ronda Rousey suggest that Phelps is not the friendliest athlete at the Olympic Games. His limited public exposure has not allowed him much opportunity to prove otherwise.
But in this Olympics, Phelps has loosened up and been more actively involved in helping the younger members of the United States swim team.
If Michael Phelps wins three total medals in London, is he the greatest Olympian of all time?
Fellow American Brendan Hansen said, via Yahoo Sports’ Beth Harris, “He's been more vocal this trip than I think I've ever seen him. There's a maturity level there with him. He's been much more about the team and I think that's going to make him swim faster."
In his first Olympics, Phelps was just a teenager, and the next time around, he faced an exhausting schedule and monumental pressure. It is understandable that he was not overly social under these conditions.
In London, Phelps is already letting his personality show more than he has in the past, and it will help endear him to the world’s fans.
Still, Phelps’ accomplishments within his sport have never been equaled and his level of dominance is unparalleled by any Olympic athlete. He will shine both in and out of the pool this summer, and this will allow him to end his farewell tour as the greatest Olympian in history.