Remember Al Oerter?

As long as we are on the question of the Olympics, let’s go to the next question.  Based on his collection of medals, is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian of all time? If medal count were the only criteria, I would say “no.” However, when you consider those medals were won over the course of three Olympics, including a world-dominating performance in 2008, I might vote in his favor.

The problem with looking just at medal count is that some sports, like swimming and, to a lesser extent, gymnastics, have a fair number of events (medal opportunities) that essentially involve the same skill-set.  For example, a dominant freestyle sprinter could win six gold medals by basically doing the same thing (swimming one stroke fast for a relatively short distance) in six events (50m, 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, 4×200 relay and the 4×100 medley relay).  He or she would not have to even attempt another stroke or any distance events.

How can you compare that to someone like Al Oerter? Anyone remember Al Oerter? I’m dating myself  here. Oerter was an American discus thrower, who won the Olympic gold medal in four consecutive games, 1956-Melbourne, 1960-Rome, 1964-Tokyo and 1968-Mexico City. That is amazing! But someone like Oerter could never rack up a medal-count like Phelps because there is only one discus event in each game. There is not a light-discus, a heavy-discus, a free-style discus, a discus-relay, a weight-throwing medley, etc.

So I think Phelps is certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest. I just don’t get hung up on the total number of medals to reach that conclusion.

So what’s on tonight?

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