Michael Phelps is the most dominant modern Olympian of all time, but you already knew that.
His dominance comes into even greater focus when you compare his Olympic accomplishments with the other top performers in Olympic history.
Phelps' Olympic career didn't start out with a bang, though.
Phelps' Teenage Years
His first Olympic experience came back in 2000. Only 15 at the time, Phelps became the youngest American male swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in 68 years, according to ESPN.com, but he didn't earn a single medal.
Despite not winning any medals in 2000, there was no doubt that greatness was on the horizon for the young phenom, and it didn't take long for Phelps to prove that point.
Only six months later, on March 30 of 2001, Phelps became the youngest man to break a world record when he swam the 200-meter butterfly in one minute, 54.92 seconds at a meet in Austin, Texas. Then, only three months later, he smashed that record, posting a time of 1:54.58 to win the gold at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (h/t New York Times).
And, those were just the first inklings of what was to come.
Phelps Compared to Other All-Time Olympians
Phelps went on to become the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, earning 22 total medals, including 18 gold medals.
To put this in perspective, the next-best total for gold medals is nine, posted by four of the most iconic Olympians in history—Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, Finnish track star Paavo Nurmi, U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and U.S. track star Carl Lewis.
His 22 total medals are four greater than Latynina's 18, and seven better than Soviet gymnast Nikolai Andrianov.
It's fair to say that his feats of greatness make the accomplishments of the rest of the Olympic immortals seem almost pedestrian.
Even more impressive than his overall numbers is the fact that Phelps was able to stay so dominant for so long.
After Phelps' 2000 Olympics, which garnered him zero medals, he went on a 12-year tear to earn his 22 medals. He won six gold medals in 2004, eight in 2008 and four more in 2012. Nobody else has come close to producing these kinds of results.
Selection of Career Highlights
It's worth pointing out that not all of Phelps' medals came by way of easy victories.
His victory in the 100-meter butterfly in the 2008 Summer Games will go down as one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history. Remember, down the stretch it looked like Serbian swimmer Milorad Čavić was going to win the final. Then—somehow, some way—Phelps out-touched him in the final millisecond, earning the gold medal.
He also had a massive challenge in the 200-meter butterfly that year. His goggles filled up with water almost as soon as he hit the pool, and Phelps swam the length of the pool four times without being able to see.
No matter. He still handily won the race.
He and the American men won the 4x100-meter freestyle relay over the heavily-favored French team, setting a world record in the process. It was just another iconic moment for Phelps during those Games.
Then, in his final race of those Olympics—the men's 4x100-meter medley relay—Phelps and his crew blew away the field and set a world record to earn him his eighth gold medal in eight events.
It was as if Phelps had some divine hand guiding him throughout the 2008 Olympics. Eight-for-eight will never be matched.
Phelps' 2012 Olympic experience didn't come close to matching what he did in 2008, but then again, nobody in their right mind could have expected him to be able to do it again.
He broke the all-time total-medals record on July 31, 2012. He was competing in the men's 4x200 freestyle relay, anchoring the race, and per Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde:
Phelps is easily the fastest American split on the relay. 1:44.05. Finished that one like a champion.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) July 31, 2012
Will we ever see anyone break Phelps' record of 18 gold medals?
This was only days after he had failed to even medal in the men's 400-meter individual medley—an event his teammate, Ryan Lochte won—that caused many to wonder if his time as the world's top swimmer was at an end.
Phelps answered that question with a resounding, "Yes I am!" after that one disappointing race, earning either a gold or silver medal in each of his next six finals.
There will never be another swimmer as dominant as Phelps. He was the world's best swimmer for the better part of 15 years, and nobody else will achieve the levels of greatness that he did.
At least not for another 30 years, or so.
Credit to Bleacher Report's Adam Hirshfield for the graphics.