Olympics: So Who Is the Greatest Olympian of All Time?

David ParkContributor IIIAugust 6, 2012

Michael Phelps preparing for his event
Michael Phelps preparing for his eventClive Rose/Getty Images

Michael Phelps' 22 Olympic medals. Usain Bolt's 100m sprint double. Truly magnificent feats by two outstanding athletes who have reached legendary status in their respective sports.

In light of Bolt's 100m win at the London Olympics, debate rages on who is the greatest Olympian of all time?

Phelps and Bolt are not the only ones who are in this discussion. 

When the XI Olympiad in Berlin 1936 was held, an Italian fencer by the name of Edoardo Mangiarotti made his Olympic debut at the tender age of 17; and would go on to win gold in the Team épée.

Mangiarotti's Olympic career was temporarily halted by a 12 year hiatus of the games due to World War II. When the Olympics finally resumed in London 1948, Mangiarotti added two silvers and a bronze to his haul.

He represented Italy in three more Olympics, eventually winning a total of 13 medals (six gold, five silver, two bronze).

Back in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, a certain athlete named Larisa Latynina from the Soviet Union announced herself on the world stage, dazzling and amazing the crowd with her extraordinary gymnastic skills. She would end up with four gold, and a silver and bronze at these Olympics.

Four years later at the Rome Olympics she again did not disappoint the crowd; taking home three gold, two silver and a bronze from the games.

That wasn't enough to satisfy Latynina though. Competing in her final Olympics, the 1964 Tokyo games, she collected a further six Olympic medals.  This was to be her final swansong and Latynina ended up with an impressive haul of nine gold, five silver, and four bronze. An astonishing 18 medal effort from the petite gymnast.

And since these Games are held in London, let's add a British sporting royalty to this list. Sir Steven Redgrave.

Redgrave won 5 straight gold medals along with his solitary bronze medal in the rowing. Sure, five gold medals isn't that hard right? Think again. Redgrave won his first gold at the age of 22 in the coxed pair at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. His final gold would be the most memorable of all, as he led his team to gold in the coxless four at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at the ripe old age of 38.

Then there is the case of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Phelps' 22 Olympic medals spanning back from the 2004 Olympics to these current Olympics is the greatest medal haul of any athlete competing in the Olympics.

An impressive display in the pool has led to him being rightfully hailed the greatest swimmer of all time. His medal tally of 18 golds and a pair of silver and bronze medals is simply unbelievable.

Usain Bolt with his sprint double win in the 100m is the fastest ever man to walk this planet. He currently has four gold medals—having won the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay in Bejing four years ago.

Bolt still has two more events in London, his favorite 200m and the relay. Bolt is called the greatest sprinter of all time, and there is no arguing that when he holds the World Record for both the 100m and 200m.

Now, it all comes down to this probing question. Who exactly is the greatest Olympian of all time?

Personally, I believe that no certain individual should be crowned as the greatest Olympian. Why you ask? Simply because it is a trivial question.

Some people might have a case for Mangiarotti who could have added to his already impressive medal haul had he not been forced to miss out on three Olympics. There is also a case for Latynina with her 18 medal effort over the course of three games.  Sir Redgrave can also be included in this discussion with his five straight Olympic golds over a 16 year period.

Phelps probably has the best argument with his incredible and probably unbeatable 22 medals. Bolt must also be up there with his four gold medals, and counting, alongside astounding 100m and 200m world records.

So all in all, let's forget about this discussion and let us all enjoy the tireless effort and determination put in, by not only these athletes, but to everyone who competes at these Olympics and at future games.