American swimmer Michael Phelps is probably not the greatest Olympic champion of all time, despite winning a record total of 19 medals, London 2012 Games chief Sebastian Coe said on Wednesday.
Phelps eclipsed the previous record of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s 18 medals, when the U.S. won gold in the 4×200 metres freestyle relay at the aquatic centre on Tuesday night.
Coe, a twice 1,500m Olympic champion, said the medal tally did not necessarily make Phelps the ‘greatest’ Olympian.
“I think you can probably say that clearly, by self-evidently the medal tally, he is the most successful. I don’t think, my personal views, I am not sure he is the greatest, but he is certainly the most successful and that goes without saying.”
Phelps is no longer the phenomenon of four years ago when he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Games and has so far failed to win an individual gold in London.
But he has already added three more medals at these Games to his tally — a huge success by any athlete’s standards — and with three events to come in his fourth Olympics before he retires, he can further boost his medal count.
Latynina, 77, whose father died in the Second World War battle for Stalingrad, hailed from the Ukraine and competed for the Soviet Union in three Olympics, starting in Melbourne in 1956.
She is one of only two women to win the all-around gold twice, a tribute to her versatility of which she remains justly proud.
“I have no idea. I mean, you know I could throw out a whole series of names. I could throw out Steve Redgrave, I could throw out, domestically Daley Thomson, you know, if I wanted to go back a few generations I think what Jesse Owens did in ’36 was unbelievable, Nadia Comaneci, I don’t know. It’s the global pub game,” said Coe.
British rower Redgrave won five gold medals between 1984 and 2000 while Thompson, a close friend of Coe, is a double decathlon gold medallist.
Owens won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, much to the chagrin of Nazi Games organizers who were eager to use the Olympics as political propaganda to highlight German superiority.
Comaneci of Romania was the first gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.