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Michael Phelps Medal Count: What Record-Breaking Olympics Haul Means for Legacy

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03:  Gold medallist Michael Phelps of the United States looks on, on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's 100m Butterfly Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images
Blake DorfmanFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2012

A while back, there was a great piece on this website about picking the Mt. Rushmore for every Major League baseball franchise.

If we were to make an Olympic version, who would be the first person to get his mug up there?

Michael Phelps. No question.

Phelps’ name is now in the history books in permanent ink. People commuting to work in flying cars will know who he was.

By surpassing Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian in history, The Baltimore Bullet has put himself in a very comfortable position at the top of the all-time medal list.

His 21-medal mark is as ironclad as Ripken’s consecutive games streak and Wilt’s 100-point game. No one’s going to even sniff it.

While Beijing was his most iconic Olympics, London is where he has really put the finishing touches on a masterpiece of a career. His legacy will be tied to the medals and only the medals. Our children’s children’s children won’t know or care about a bong hit in 2009, and they won’t know who Ryan Lochte was. That rivalry has gone up in smoke as much as the weed did.

Everyone was panicking after the medal-less 400 IM a week ago, but Phelps answered with three gold medals and two silvers. He’s admitted that he’s not the same swimmer he was in Beijing, but he’s still the best swimmer in London.

Phelps’ go-to line has been that he wants to do things that no one has ever done before. That mission has been accomplished, and no one will ever duplicate it.

We can look in the history books and see the inspiration of Jesse Owens, the longevity of Carl Lewis or the perfection of Nadia Comeneci. Of all the fabulous athletes that have called themselves Olympians, there is only one that can call himself the greatest of all time.

His name is Michael Phelps.

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