Michael Phelps not best Olympian ever? So says chief of London Olympics
Sebastian Coe, revered British Olympic long-distance runner and head of the London Olympic organizing committee, said other athletes' Olympic achievements might be more impressive than those of all-time medal leader Michael Phelps.
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• The first of his homer picks is British rower Steve Redgrave. Pro: Redgrave won five gold medals and a bronze over five Summer Olympic cycles, showing complete dominance of a sport over two decades. Con: No matter how good a rower you are, you always need a partner or a team to win, unless you're competing in the single sculls, which Redgrave did not. That complicates the conversation somewhat.Skip to next paragraph
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• His second is Briton Daley Thompson, a two-time gold medalist in the decathlon in 1980 and 1984. Pro: Picking a decathlete is a natural, as decathletes are considered the best athletes in the world – like Phelps, competing at a high level across many events. Con: Both of these were boycotted Olympics, meaning he had no American competition in one and no Eastern Bloc competition in the other. American Robert Mathias also won the Olympic decathlon twice, in 1948 and 1952.
• He also suggested Jesse Owens, the African-American sprinter who won four golds – in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 4x100 relay, and long jump – at the 1936 Berlin Games. Pro: Owens's performance was a seminal moment in the history of the Olympic movement, refuting Adolf Hitler's creed of a superior Teutonic race in front of the man himself. He also had no chance to compete again because US athletic officials controversially withdrew his amateur status. Con: There is no way of knowing if he could have maintained that level of success.
• Last, he mentioned Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who became the first gymnast to receive a perfect 10 score. Pro: Like Owens's performance in Berlin, Comaneci's perfect 10 in Montreal is a moment etched into Olympic history, and her nine medals (five gold, three silver, one bronze) over two Olympic Games show excellence over time and in different events. Con: She might not even be the best Olympic gymnast ever. Soviet Larisa Latynina competed in three Olympics (1956, 1960, and 1964) and won 18 medals (nine gold, five silver, and four bronze). Latynina also has the rather impressive achievement of winning five out of six titles while four months pregnant – though that was in a world championships.
What does all this mean? Not much.
Coe did make one less controversial statement.
‘‘This is the global pub game,’’ he said. ‘‘Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? I could go around this whole room, we’d all come up with different interpretations on that."
That is certain.