For the past 12 years, the world has witnessed two of the greatest athletes perform on the biggest stage in sports. U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt have accumulated a staggering amount of accolades and records on national and world stages, topping all other athletes in their respective sports. As the 2016 Olympics unfolded and the world witnessed career records being made, including Phelps’ shattering of a 2,168-year-old record held by Leonidas of Rhodes, many compared the two based on their medal accomplishments. Now that we have seen their careers unfold, one question presents itself: who exactly is the greater olympian?
“I would basically say Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time because he has done it longer. I think having 23 gold medals is more impressive,” said UTSA hurdles runner Patrick Prince.
“Even though I’m not a big swimmer, I do swim. I also run track for UTSA, so I know what Usain does. I love both, but I would say a better career is Phelps.”
I believe the accomplishments of Michael Phelps are more impressive than Usain Bolt’s because the physical demands of swimming trump those of track and field. Swimming requires a force of movement against the opposite drag force of the pool’s water. Each of the different movements that swimming needs — the butterfly, the backstroke, the breaststroke and the freestyle — require extensive training to master. Phelps competes in every event except the backstroke.
Phelps is regarded as the most decorated Olympian of all time. He has competed in the Olympics five times, beginning from when he was 15 in Athens, until his current age of 31 in Rio. Phelps has accumulated 28 Olympic medals (23 gold), 26 World Championship gold medals and 16 Pan Pacific gold medals.
He holds the world-record times for the 100-meter butterfly (49.92 seconds), the 200 meter butterfly (1.51.51) and the 400-meter individual medley (4.03.84). Phelps’ impressive physique, which includes a wingspan of 208 centimeters and a size 14 foot, helps him dominate the competition.
Outside of the pool though, there’s another Olympian going far beyond the limits. Usain Bolt is a Jamaican runner who competes in the track and field 100-meter, 200-meter and the 4×100 relay team. Bolt holds the world record for both the 100 meter relay(9.58) and the 200 meter relay (19.19). He has accomplished an impressive nine gold medals for each of the Olympic events in which he has competed.
“The 100 and 200 meter races are the two most technical races in track and field. One small mistake results in a loss,” said UTSA freshman Harrison Vann.
“Usain Bolt’s dominance in the races for the past few Olympics cannot be matched by any other Olympic athlete.”
At a towering 6 ft. 5 inches, Bolt can finish races with an average of 41 steps, eclipsing 2.44 meters with each step. In comparison, some of his track and field rivals like American sprinter Tyson Gay, who stands at 5 ft. 11 inches, has to take 45.45 steps with an average length of 2.20 meters each step. Whether Bolt falls behind in a race or not, his impressive stride can overcome the fault and propel him into first place.
Usain Bolt is an amazing athlete, but he hasn’t trained himself adequately into positions where he can compete in other events such as the 400 and the 4×400. He is a short distance runner, whereas Phelps can compete in both long and short distance races, making him eligible for more medal events. When measuring the success of Olympians, Phelps’ versatility in the water has placed him in an unreachable place, even for sprinter Usain Bolt.