Michael Phelps: Greatest Moments of the Best Olympian Ever

John RozumCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2012

Michael Phelps: Greatest Moments of the Best Olympian Ever

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    Michael Phelps has done it. He is now the all-time leading overall medalist in Olympics history.

    In the 200-meter butterfly, he took silver to tie the record of 18 medals set by Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina. Then, Phelps made history—as he always does—as the United States won gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

    The No. 19 is a magical number in the world of sports.

    Phelps needed 19 medals to become the greatest Olympian of all time. A perfect season in the NFL is 19-0, including the playoffs, and 19 major golf championships would surpass Jack Nicklaus's leading total of 18.

    But no NFL team has gone 19-0, and Nicklaus still remains No. 1 in golf.

    Michael Phelps is the real thing. After so many years of anticipation, he is the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Games.

    Now, let us recount the highlights of his journey to the pinnacle.

     

    All-time Olympic medal records fact sheet courtesy of the International Olympic Committee.

    Full view of Michael Phelps records courtesy of USA Swimming.

    Full view of swimming world records courtesy of FINA official website.

2000 Sydney Games, the Beginning of a Legend

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    Michael Phelps didn't medal during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

    He did however, finish in fifth place for the 200-meter butterfly at age 15.

    It was his only event of those Summer Games, but Phelps' performance set the stage for his immediate future. Just imagine how the other Olympians felt when they were racing next to a kid who didn't even have his driver's license yet.

First Gold in 2004 Athens Games, 400-Meter Individual Medley

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    Before he even won his first Olympic gold medal, Michael Phelps had already swam the four fastest times ever in the 400-meter individual medley.

    He then proceeded to break his own record once again with a time of four minutes and 8.26 seconds during the 2004 Summer Games. Phelps would go on to crush this time four years later.

    In Beijing, his time of 4:03.84 remains No. 1.

Passing of the Torch, 2004 Win over Ian Crocker in 100-Meter Butterfly

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    Heading into the 2004 Summer Olympics, Ian Crocker was the world record-holder in the 100-meter butterfly.

    Racing a time of 50.76 before the Athens Games, it was reasonable to believe that Crocker would take gold; he was the first swimmer to ever break the 51-second mark.

    Then, Michael Phelps came along and upset Crocker by .04 seconds.

    As we would learn, close calls were where Phelps capitalized every time.

    Fast forward to August 1, 2009 and Phelps became the first swimmer to break the 50-second mark just one day after Milorad Čavić set the record at 50.01.

    Phelps swam a blazing 49.82 that still stands.

A Little Help from Jason Lezak

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    It was the beginning of his record-setting frenzy in Beijing for the 2008 Games.

    Michael Phelps easily did his part in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay by swimming a split of 47.51 seconds to start the race. But going into the final leg, the United States were behind France by almost a full length.

    Then Jason Lezak hit a gear that no one in any leg had ever hit before.

    Closing out his leg at 46.06 seconds Lezak not only broke the 47-second mark, but swam faster than each France's two final legs by more than half a second.

    Phelps is the greatest Olympian ever, but we can give an assist to Lezak.

History of 200 Fly in Beijing, Part 1

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    The 200-meter butterfly is Michael Phelps' bread and butter.

    After taking fifth in the event during the 2000 Sydney Games, Phelps won gold in the 200 fly in Athens and Beijing.

    More impressively, Phelps repeated the gold performance in 2008 while having to swim part of the race blind. In an article by Pat Forde of ESPN:

    The fact that he broke his own world record after his goggles leaked only adds to the Phelps mythology. He said he was basically swimming while blind, guessing at where the wall was on his turns. Who needs to see to win gold? Not Phelps.

    Doing it in world record fashion of one minute and 52.03 seconds, Phelps proceeded to break this mark less than a year later with a time of 1:51.51.

History of 200 Fly in Beijing, Part 2

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    The 200-meter butterfly at the 2008 Summer Olympics was also a milestone for Michael Phelps.

    Before the race began, Phelps entered the final with nine gold medals. That mark had him tied with four other Olympians, including Americans Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz.

    Well, Phelps did what was expected and he took home the victory which put him No. 1 all time for gold medals with 10.

    He's still the only Olympian with double-digit gold,s and the win kept Phelps' hopes alive for achieving more history in Beijing.

A Race of Inches, a Finish for the Ages

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    If the cliche "a game of inches" has ever been more relevant, the 100-meter butterfly in Beijing defined that during the final.

    After a slow start, Phelps was back in the pack after the only turn and had to make up more than half a body length in minimal time. Fortunately, his catch up began at exactly the right time as he managed to defeat Milorad Čavić of Serbian by one one-hundredth of a second.

    Setting an Olympic record with a time of 50.58 seconds, Phelps won his seventh gold of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

8-for-8 in 2008

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    It wasn't completed in dramatic fashion, however, Michael Phelps achieved perfection in 2008 as Team USA won the 4x100-meter medley relay with a time of three minutes and 29.34 seconds.

    Phelps finished eight-for-eight and broke Mark Spitz record of seven golds in one Olympics.

    Seven of his golds were world records and Phelps left Beijing with 16 total career Olympic medals. Entering the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, we knew history was about to be made. 

Tying the All-Time Olympic Medal Record

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    It's fitting that Michael Phelps tied the all-time Olympic medal record in the 200-meter butterfly.

    With a time of one minute and 53.01 seconds in the final, Phelps won silver and only lost by .05 seconds.

    Still, any time we watch Phelps in the pool, the butterfly stroke is his signature relic courtesy of an eagle-like wingspan.

    You see those long arms whip out of the water and pull his 6'4" frame ahead and it never ceases to amaze. And rightfully so, because Phelps has done nothing but amaze throughout his entire career.

    With the medal in the 200 fly, he tied Larisa Latynina for the most Olympic medals ever with 18.

No. 1 Overall at Last

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    Remember the magic No. 19?

    Well it's here and Michael Phelps can call it his own.

    The U.S. raced six minutes and 59.7 seconds in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay to win the gold, as Phelps surpassed Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina as the all-time Olympic medal leader. Combined this with help already having the most gold medals in Olympics history and it's easy to recognize that he's the greatest Olympian ever.

    And chances are his [gold] medal count never gets passed, because the most recent (meaning 21st century Olympian) all-time medalist that's close to him is USA's Natalie Coughlin with 12.

    The legacy of Phelps' career goes above and beyond fathomable thought. So instead we can only sit back and watch in amazement, because athletes like him don't come around every generation.

    Plus, he's not quite finished yet in London either.

     

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