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Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt Are Great But Who's Better?

, November 11, 2020 WAT
Last Updated 2020-11-10T19:56:47Z
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Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt


With the curtains closing on the 2012 London Olympics, it's impossible not to look back and reflect on the greatest performances by Olympic athletes.

The Olympics have many memorable moments and athletes we'll remember by name alone. The list is quite big. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are the latest addition to this list of the bests. They make London Olympics stand apart. If there is any question like this: “What is the standout performance of London 2012?”, perhaps the answer is “ The London Games gave us Michael Phelps vs. Usain Bolt.” The first one is an already decorated Olympian, who puts the finishing touches on his great athletic careers. And another comes up with a new definition of fast.

Two of the most popular Olympic sports, sprinting and swimming, saw their two biggest stars and captivated audiences. They'd also dominated the 2008 Beijing Games, but Phelps and Bolt cemented their legacies in London. Phelps, the American swimmer, passed gymnast Larissa Latynia for the most Olympic medals ever. Bolt was the third man to repeat as a 100-meter gold medalist and the first as a 200-meter gold medalist, and he broke his own Olympic record by running the 100 in 9.63 seconds. Once Phelps and Bolt were back in their pool and track, the storylines changed.

Phelps is the most-decorated Olympian ever, with 22 overall medals: 18 gold, two silver, two bronze. Bolt is the most accomplished Olympic sprinter, with the unprecedented double, making clear that he's the fastest man in the world.

But there's a debate: Who had the better Olympics? It'd be tough to top Phelps' eight gold medals in Beijing, but what if we're only talking London?

London was Phelps' grand finale. He won four golds and two silvers in seven events, and he says he'll never race again.

London was Bolt's chance to prove he's still the greatest. Bolt wins six gold medals in six Olympic finals. He is the first man ever in the history of the modern Games to sweep the 100 and 200 in back-to-back Olympics. Not to mention the addition of back-to-back relay golds.

And Bolt became a legend, in his own words. Phelps already was. Bolt is just 25 years old, so there is no telling how long he can be on top of the sprinting world. What if he decides to "retire" from sprinting to focus on the 400 meters, just to break another world record or two? It would be amazing—and entirely plausible for him to accomplish.

Who had the better 2012 Games? You tell us, let the debate begin.

[adapted from USA Today, Sports London 2012]