Bolt vs. Phelps, who’s been more impressive?

Usain Bolt picked up the slack left by Michael Phelps’ week 1 performance in these Beijing games more than adequately by going 3-for-3-for-3 as in 3 races, 3 gold medals and 3 world records; something that has never been done by a sprinter at a single Olympic games.

So as these Olympic games come to a conclusion, two stars have emerged head and shoulders above the rest as the story of the games — Phelps in week 1 and Bolt in week 2. But inevitably, as with all sports, a discussion emerges about who has been more impressive. Both have accomplished incredible feats that have never been seen before in their respective sports but only one has removed their sport from the bad light it had in being associated with doping.

At the end of the day, this discussion begins and ends with Bolt. plain and simple. His accomplishments are far more impressive than what Phelps did in swimming.

It’s like someone else on here said: swimming world records get broken every day. Look at the records Bolt broke! The 200 was 12 yrs old, a record that nobody thought would be touched! It’s like Joe D’s 56 straight getting broken. Then he and his Jamaican teammates go and break a 24 yr old record in the 4×100 relay! Not to mention the fact that he became the FIRST EVER to set world records in both individual sprint events (100, 200) in the same Olympic games. And get this! He hasn’t even reached his prime! he still has 4-5 years before he does! In London in 2012 he could eclipse both marks and bring the records down into stupid times!

don’t believe me? check this out

writer in London’s opinion…

No matter who you side with though (after all it is a great debate), let’s agree on one thing: these two are remarkable athletes that deserve to not only forever be remembered for their performances here, but also forever included in the discussions of “most dominant in their sport” when those discussions come up with Tiger Woods in golf, Roger Federer in Tennis (maybe not so much anymore with Nadal taking over as No. 1), Tom Brady in Football or Kobe Bryant in Basketball. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps need to be thrown in there with Tiger as 1, 2, 3, in most dominant athletes of their respective sports. Period.

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12 responses to “Bolt vs. Phelps, who’s been more impressive?

  1. I’ll pick Bolt if the question is; “which athlete am I most impressed with at these games?” I have four reasons why.

    1) Sprinting has a much larger talent pool (no pun intended) than swimming. There are not many places in the world with the infrastructure and resources necessary to developing a world class swimmer. As such relatively few athletes pursue swimming competitively. Sprinting on the other hand can flourish even in a relatively poor country like Jamaica. There are far more athletes in track and field than there are in swimming. For Bolt to rise to the top of that mountain in such dominant form is truly impressive.

    2) I don’t want to take anything away from Michael. His achievements in the Olympics and his unbelievably gruelling training regiment that prepared him for it was absolutely remarkable. That being said, he and his coach trained and planned for it. Their goal was to beat Spitz’s record. In doing that, they conveniently avoided the most fast and furious races. He didn’t do the 50m freestyle or the 100m freestyle. Those are the equivalent of the 100m and the 200m in track. They are the races that designate the fastest man in the water. Phelps did individual medleys, the butterfly (his most dominant stroke) and the 200m freestyle and some relays. He won his 8 gold medals but for some reason I feel more impressed by what Matt Biondi did in 1988 winning 5 golds including the 50 and 100m freestyle races. To me, Phelps is clearly the best all around swimmer of all time but I don’t know that I’d call him the fastest.

    3) Swimming is the only sport in which you could even possibly compete for 8 gold medals let alone win them. To win 8 golds in track and field or gymnastics would be impossible. That basically points to the reality that there are too many events in swimming and that these events are too similar to one another such that one great swimmer will have the opportunity to win more medals than great athletes in other sports. You have the 50 free, the 100free, the 200free the 400free, the 100backstroke, the 200backstroke…you get the idea. No athlete in any other sport has ever earned more than 4 gold medals in a single olympic games. Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens are the only track stars to reach 4. In swimming, Phelps, Biondi, Spitz and probably someone else that I’m not thinking of have all earned 5 or more gold medals and 7 or more total medals. That’s only possible in swimming. When people call Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian of all time or the greatest athlete of all time, they’re getting carried away. What he is is the greatest swimmer of all time.

    4) My final point is about Bolt. At 21 years old, he not only obliterated the world record in the 100m (the race that designates fastest man alive) he also broke Michael Johnson’s untouchable 200m record and ran the turn leg of a World record smashing relay team. That’s as dominant a sprinting performance as you can ask for. What’s scary is that he’ll only be 25 at the next Olympics and will almost certainly be better than he is now. He ran the 400 in 45.2 while in high school and a lot of experts believe that the 400 will ultimately be his best event. This guy could possibly win the 100m, 200m and 400m in London! That would be more historic for me than phelps’ collection of swimming medals. combine those three races with the 400m and 4x400m relays and Bolt might have a shot at breaking Jesse Owens’ and Carl Lewis’ track and field single games gold medal record. In other words, while Michael Phelps’ greatest achievement is most definately behind him now, Bolt’s greatest moments are likely yet to come. The sky is the limit for this dude.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. Mark, well said and thought out. I agree whole-heartedly with your analysis of the comparison.

    To me it’s like this, swimming has so many more opportunities to medal plus competing in 8 events in swimming vs. 8 events in track is far less taxing on your body because you are in the pool. I mean this is why injured athletes go and rehab in a pool!

    For those people out there that say Bolt has 3 golds, come back to me when he has 5 more and let’s talk, the thing that you have to remember is what I just got done saying, Phelps had those opportunities and Bolt doesn’t. If he were to go and compete in the hurdles or long jump it would be like Phelps taking on competitive diving — they are a much more specialized area, far different from sprinting or swimming.

    The other thing about Bolt, which you touched on, is how young he is. All of the sprinter who now are up in booth and retired will tell you that a sprinter doesn’t reach their prime until they are 26, 27 and go thru it until 30. So with Bolt setting these ridiculous records — I mean take a step back and look at those times 9.69 in the 100 (decelerating mind you) and 19.3 in the 200 — at just 21, now 22 years old who knows where he might take them in London in four years! Could we see the 100 meter fall to 9.4, something that I thought just a couple of weeks ago would never happen? Could the 200 time fall below 19 seconds to 18.9 or so?! I shudder to think just how fast this guy can be. And like you said, a lot of people think the 400 would be his best event so when he decides to take on that extra training as he gets older, we could see him breaking Johnson’s mark there and winning golds in the 100, 200, 400, 4×100, 4×400 and who knows? maybe he’ll pull a Carl Lewis and try the long jump too. The sky is the limit for this kid and it’s wonderful because he’s got the perfect personality to bring back the sport of Track. You can’t help but love and appreciate him for what he’s doing.

    And just a side note, I think if they created races like a 150 meter and say a combined relay of 4×100 where its two males and two females from a country, then Bolt could match that tally of 8 but otherwise it’s just not feasible for a track star to put up a number like that. 3-for-3-for-3 is more impressive to me than 7-for-8-for-8.

  3. A very crucial point in comparing achievements is to remember that with every sprint, the knees take a pounding so the next race is harder on the athlete’s body even if by just a smidgen; however in swimming, one is working with buoyancy and the body doesn’t particularly take a pounding. Are these sports even comparable? (No prizes for guessing, Bolt is the one I vote for in these games).

    Also it may be worth having this discussion in 20 years’ time. Many of the true Olympic greats have won medals consistently in 4 or 5 Olympics and been active into their late 30s or 40s. The two men here are very young. Perhaps the label of ‘great’ can wait.

  4. I like Bolt. I always thought that Phelps is just damn good at swimming – but sure, that’s ok. But sprinting has a much wider range of runners & events.

    Although, I think some people are going for Bolt because they feel Phelps has had enough praise already. It’s time for someone new.

    Nice post, by the way.

  5. I choose the easy way out. They are in two disciplines that are measured by time, they were both thought to be impossible accomplishments, and they were both done by “good guys”. Therefore I will say neither was more impressive. I’ll say it was a tie.

  6. Pingback: Bolt vs. Phelps « The Doppler Effect·

  7. Bolt will only be better when he wins a gold running backwards. His arrogance is childish & insulting to watch, show some class and sportsmanship and then and only then will he deserve respect. He is a great sprinter, but 2 or 3 medals in an olympics does not equal 7.

    • I appreciate your opinion but can’t come close to being in agreement with you. Phelps benefits from being able to swim essentially as many races as he’d like to, not to mention collect golds in multiple relay races without really even doing much (doesn’t take any practice time or extra energy from him because he doesn’t race in the heats).

      In a discussion like this, medal count should really be left out of the conversation. It’s about the level of dominance in each athlete’s respective sport. Bolt holds world records in every race he has trained for. Phelps can’t say that. Bolt also has broken records and gone to speeds nobody dreamed possible just five years ago. Now he allows us to dream of what is possible. It’s too bad that he isn’t 100 percent healthy right now because I think we would have seen him break both world records again if he had been.

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