Where Does Michael Phelps Rank Among Great Athletes Of All Time?

Dan PieroniCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2008

Well, he did it.

What more can be said that hasn't been said already.

So much has been said about Michael Phelps over the last two weeks that I'm beginning to think that he, his Mother, and his two sisters are apart of my family.

Why shouldn't we stop basking in the glow of his achievement, the kid virtually did the impossible.

The question isn't if the achievement of winning eight goal medals in a single Olympics is the the greatest achievement of all time, it's where do you put Michael Phelps on the list of greatest American athletes of all time.

It will be debated and discussed for generations to come.

Some will say he is the greatest athlete of all time because of the numbers don't lie.

Others will say he is not the greatest of all time because unlike athletes in the four major sports, he had 4 years to train and concentrate on reaching his goal.

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However, anyway you slice it, Phelps has to at the very least be put on a list of the greatest athletes of all time simply because he is both the greatest Olympic champion of all time and he won more gold medal than anyone in a single Olympiad.

I personally judge an athlete's greatness on three criteria.

1. Is he the type of guy you want to root for?

I want to root for people are are worth rooting for, the kind of people who aren't pompous and enjoy what they do.

I want to root for athletes like Jim Abbott and Josh Hamilton who overcame adversity in their lives to become stars.

I want to root for the guys who are charitable and friendly, who grew up poor and make the most of the opportunity to play professional sports.

 Lastly, I want to root for the guys like Tiger Woods and Larry Bird who are the strangers in the strangeland yet personify greatness despite being the minority in their respective sports.

2. Is the athlete defined by one shining moment or achievement?

The mark of a great athlete is known when you can associate their name to a specific game or accomplishment.

Michael Jordan will always be remembered for putting 63 points up on a the vaunted 1986 Celtics.

Wilt Chamberlain will always be remembered for scoring 100 points in a game.

Joe DiMaggio got a hit in 56 straight MLB games, a record that has stood for almost 70 years.

And finally, many people admired Bo Jackson because he had the ability to excel at 2 sports and rarely had an off season in his prime.

3. Did the athlete change the way the sport is precieved in the mainstream world.

In order to be considered great, you have to inspire people to follow in your footsteps.

When I grew up, kids in my neighborhood wanted to be like Michael Jordan, because he turned the NBA into his own individual showcase night after night.

Soaring through the air like an eagle, Jordan never backed down from anything, he could do it all.

Wayne Gretzky was a magician with a hockey stick, and the most unstoppable force in NHL history.

Nobody hit harder nor played harder in the NFL than Lawrence Taylor. His dominance virtually created the double team.

So does Phelps meet the criteria?

He has certainly overcome adversity. Suffering from ADD and teachers who gave up on him, Phelps learned to channel his energies into the pool and became great because of it.

He will always be defined by both his 14  gold medals, more than any other athlete, and his 8 for 8 showing at these Olympics.

His achievements have already led millions of kids to follow in his footsteps.

Yesterday morning, ABC's Chris Cuomo said on Good Morning America that when he took his kids to a swimming class over the weekend all the kids wanted to do was imitate Michael Phelps.

The evidence shows that Phelps certainly meets my standards.

However, it's hard to put a ranking on him because he competes sporadically, and therefore he is not as consistent year-to-year as athletes in other sports.

Make no mistake though, Phelps is one of the all-time greats, and is probably on most top ten lists.

I can't wait for London four years from now, I think he can do it again.


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