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Phelps Toon
Image courtesy of Mike Luckovich at Creators.com

The question, now that the Michael Phelps Pool Domination tour is over, is where does Phelps stand in relation to other American Olympic greats like Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis? Does he surpass them or are they the “most dominant?”

In relation to Jesse Owens, there’s no question the four gold medals he won under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich have much more historical significance, as does the Black Fist salute. However, are we gauging Phelps’ performance solely on its historical impact or are we simply measuring athletic accomplishments? If it is just athletic prowess being compared, how do you not put Phelps at the top?

14 gold medals in two Olympics make it so, as do the eight he won at Beijing — better known as the most gold medals won by an individual at a single Olympics.

Carl Lewis was magnificent and that anchor leg he ran in 4×100 in the 92 Olympics for one his last gold medals was truly an incredible performance; but how does that somehow make the Phelps Eight any less of an accomplishment? From behind this keyboard, it does not. Neither does saying “Phelps is a more masterful Olympian” diminish Carl Lewis’ accomplishments. Nor should it.

Lewis achieved Olympic longevity but yet, he needed to be durable in order to win as many gold medals as he did (nine). Phelps has won 14 gold medals in just two Olympic appearances. Is it his fault he hasn’t had a chance to compete in as many Games as Lewis has? Does that somehow diminish Phelps’ domination?

Again, I’m thinking no.

If you want historical significance, the obvious choice is Owens. If you want longevity, Lewis is your choice. But if you want the most dominant performance over a specific discipline — regardless of the different stroke styles — Phelps is the obvious choice. And if you think the fact he has three different swimming styles to master somehow reduces the impact of his accomplishments, try swimming a length of the pool (up and back) in under one minute using the freestyle.

After that, do it using the breaststroke and after that, do it with the butterfly. Simple, right?

For my money, the clear answer when it comes to most dominant Olympic athlete — with no disrespect to Owens or Lewis — is Phelps.