Keep Tiger Woods, I'll take Michael Phelps.
I hope everyone is watching the Olympics because the world is being treated by Michael Phelps' swimming.
We are drawn to athletes who are "freaks of nature." Our chins dropped when we saw Michael Jordan fly, Barry Sanders cut, or Tiger Woods hit a golf ball. For the past five years, we have watched in amazement as the freakish Phelps has blown the competition out of his pool.
Phelps, of course, won six gold medals at the Athens games in 2004 (eight total) and has won three gold medals in three attempts so far in Beijing.
It is amazing to see Phelps swim, going along with the pack, and then all of a sudden blowing past them. It's like he turns to the swimmers on his left and right and says, "Thanks for coming, I hope you like silver."
Phelps has amazing flexibility and an amazing arm span. It is almost as if Zeus touched Phelps from Mount Olympus while he was in his mother's womb, and destined him for the vocation to be the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.
It is tough to put in perspective how dominant Phelps has been. Since first competing in World Championships in 2001, Phelps has captured gold in 17 out of 20 races. In the other three, he merely took home silver. His first race was 200 meter butterfly, in which he won gold. He was 16 years old. Phelps wins 85% of his world championship races.
In Olympic competition, Phelps has competed in 12 events so far (I'll even include the one race in Sydney in 2000 when Phelps was 15.) Phelps has won nine gold medals or 75% of his Olympic races.
It is amazing that one athlete is so dominant that he is chosen to compete in eight events in back-to-back Olympics. If he won half of them he would be a legend, but the dominance he displays puts him in a category by himself.
How do you compare Phelps' dominance to other sports figures?
Michael Jordan won six championships in six consecutive seasons in which he played, but basketball is a team sport.
Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927. His closest competitor was Lou Gerhig with 47, while Tony Lazzeri was third with 18. Still, Ruth did it over the course of a season with 3-5 at bats a game.
Tiger Woods has dominated golf, but his best year (2000) was the one in which he won three out of four majors. However, Woods has dominated golf for over a decade.
One can not definitively say who the most dominant athlete of their generation, or of all time, is. However, I can say that the percentage at which Phelps wins leads me to give him the advantage. It is also the fact that he is simply accomplishing feats that were unheard of.
Finally, while MJ, Ruth, and Woods are certainly the most dominating figures in their respective sports, Phelps' competition has been training their entire lives in their respective government's program with the best coaches in the world, and they still can't touch Phelps.