19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?


19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?


LONDON (AP) -- The greatest?
When it comes to Michael Phelps, the answer seems obvious with just a cursory glance of the medals table. The guy has won 15 golds -- "insane," says Serena Williams, who certainly knows a thing or two about winning -- and now he's got more total Olympic medals than anyone, with a few more races to extend the record into almost unfathomable territory before he's done in London.

Even President Barack Obama jumped on the bandwagon, phoning Phelps on Wednesday to congratulate him on his remarkable accomplishment.

"He's definitely the greatest Olympian of all time," said South African swimmer Chad le Clos, who's actually one of the few guys to have beaten Phelps at the Olympics. "He's my idol."

But the greatest?

That's where things get a bit dicier.

While the sporting world -- everyone from Masters champion Bubba Watson to Spanish soccer star Gerard Pique -- peppered Phelps with praise in the Twitter-verse after he earned the 19th medal of his career, no less an authority than Sebastian Coe was reticent to bestow the ultimate crown.

"My personal view is I'm not sure he's the greatest," Lord Coe said on Wednesday, speaking as a two-time gold medalist in athletics and the face of these games as head of the London organizing committee. "But he's certainly the most successful."

Other think the sheer magnitude of Phelps' accomplishments leave little doubt about his place in history.

"He's won more medals that any Olympian in history," said U.S. swimmer Tyler Clary. "That should speak for itself."

Indeed, the numbers are mind-boggling:

-- Start with the golds. Phelps has six more than anyone else. If he wins his last three events in London, he'll have twice as many as anyone else.

-- Soviet-era gymnast Larisa Latynina previously held the record for total medals, winning 18 over a span of three Olympics from 1956-64. From there, the dropoff is significant. Next on the list is another Soviet gymnast, Nikolai Andrianov, with 15 medals. Three others captured 13. Just 23 more -- in both Summer and Winter Games -- have as many as 10. If Phelps was a nation, he would be tied for 57th on the Summer Games medal list and closing in on India, the second-most populous nation on the globe.

-- Phelps won the most gold medals at a single games, his eight-race sweep in Beijing four years ago. In retrospect, the Great Haul of China looks even more impressive. While it's said that every record is made to be broken, it's hard to see anyone topping that mark. Equaling it at best, and that will be tough enough.

Williams, who is competing in the Olympic tennis competition at Wimbledon, described Phelps as "the ultimate Olympian."

"I mean, who does that?" she asked. "No one else could do that. It's insane."

In London, Phelps has been a bit of letdown. He didn't even make the podium in his first race, laboring home fourth in the 400 individual medley, and he settled for the first two silvers of his career, including a shocking loss to le Clos in the 200 butterfly Tuesday. But he finally got his first gold of these games in the 4x200 freestyle relay, taking over with a big lead and cruising home while the roar inside the Olympic Aquatics Centre got louder with each powerful stroke.

Afterward, the announcer proclaimed him "a complete legend" while the Foo Fighters song "Best of You" blared from the speakers. Someone held up a bed sheet with the handwritten message "PHELPS GREATEST OLYMPIAN EVER."

That seemed to be the general sentiment around the Olympic city, a day after Phelps captured No. 19.

From the shooting range: "Yes, for me he is the greatest," said Chinese shooter Chen Ying, shortly after winning silver in women's 25-meter pistol. "Michael Phelps is a role model for all athletes in the world. In swimming, competition is like a battlefield. He inspires others to go for gold as well."

From the beach volleyball stadium: "For sure," Natacha Rigobert of Mauritius said, "because he won so many medals swimming for the USA and to keep doing good like this is amazing. I mean, nobody did that before. It's great."

From the world of athletics: "Once you do something that nobody has ever done before, it automatically puts you in that category," retired sprinter Maurice Greene said. "It's an arguable debate, but he has to be in the top."
Coe begs to disagree. Sort of.

"This is the great global pub game. Who is the greatest athlete of all time?" he said during his daily briefing. "Whether he's the greatest, I don't know. I could go around this whole room and we'd come up with different interpretations. You'd have to say he's up there. Is he the greatest? In my opinion, probably not. But my opinion means no more than anyone else's."

Coe was pressed for his choice. If not Phelps, who?

"I could throw out a whole series of names," Coe said. "I could throw out Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson," a couple of home-country faves. "If I wanted to go back a few generations and recall what Jesse Owens did in 1936, it was unbelievable. Nadia Comaneci. I don't know. It's the great local pub game."

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge also was hesitant to put Phelps above everyone else.

"Definitely one of the greatest," Rogge told The Associated Press. "You cannot reduce everything to the medals. What Larisa Latynina has done with 18 medals and Michael has done with 19 medals is unequaled and is probably going to stay like this for decades to come. But there are other issues that both have. Personality. Larisa is a wonderful personality. Michael is a wonderful personality. There are great iconic athletes who have not won that many medals, but definitely it is a landmark."

Rogge, too, was pushed to name others he would put alongside Phelps.

"I'm not going to make an exhaustive list," he replied, "but there are legendary athletes like Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens and many more that are really idols and icons of the sport."

Indeed, it's worth noting that Phelps participates in a sport where it's possible to win multiple events at a single games. Compare that with someone such as basketball star LeBron James, who is at the top of his game but can only win one gold medal -- no more than one medal, period -- every four years. And while Phelps swims an impressive array of events, encompassing all four strokes and ranging in distance from 100 to 400 meters, it's hard to discount Nurmi winning five gold medals at the 1924 Games, including the 1,500 and 5,000 less than two hours apart. Lewis has to be considered for his versatility, winning everything from sprints to relays to the long jump.

"There are a ton of athletes that are in the conversation," Greene said. "You could debate it for hours and hours. It's hard to say someone is THE greatest. You have different eras. Eight years from now, it might be someone who comes by and does something far greater than (Phelps) did, in a different event and a different sport and get more gold medals than that."

But Greene added: "In this era, I'd give it to him."

Hard to argue with that.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski, Janie McCauley, Eric Willemsen, Beth Harris, Pat Graham, Steve Wilson and Chris Torchia contributed to this report.

Quick Links

Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

USA Today Sports

Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

News, notes and observations from the first week of NFL Free Agency

News, notes and observations from the first week of NFL Free Agency

A whirlwind week in the NFL, but that's come to be the norm when free agency opens. Actually, not even when free agency opens, rather the legal tampering period opening two days before the actual start of the new league year. 

A lot happened, and more to come, but let's try to make sense of it all. 

  • The worst keep secret ever finally got revealed when the Redskins held their press conference to announce Alex Smith as their new starting quarterback. Everybody knows about the trade, and losing Kendal Fuller, but this trade makes a ton of sense and Smith was a homerun at the presser. He doesn't care about image or perception, a refreshing angle from the passer, and seems quite prepared for his new role. Smith was great in Kansas City in 2017. If he can replicate that in 2018 for the Redskins, the move will be loudly applauded. 
  • We still haven't gotten total clarity on Smith's contract. My intel says three years are really guaranteed, so Smith will be on the payroll through 2020 at least. Doug Williams joked at the presser that Smith could maybe play until he's 40, and since he's 33 right now, that would be a long time from now. 


  • Smith was the headline, but the Redskins also held a press conference with new WR Paul Richardson. He was possibly more impressive than Smith, just because the young speedster was more of an unknown. Smith has talked at a ton of podiums and faced a ton of reporters. I don't know, but that might have been Richardson's first ever press conference with a room that had probably 100 or more people in it. Check out the video above. 
  • Richardson had a great line when asked about the dangers of big hits on passes over the middle: "They gotta catch me." He's right. He will get a lot of opportunities for the Redskins, and he should make things better for Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder. The Redskins wideouts did not get great separation in 2017, there are Pro Football Focus stats to back that up, and the offense got bogged down because of that. In 2018, with Richardson in place as a deep threat, defenses will need to react. 
  • The key to the Redskins offense truly succeeding in 2018: Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, the Washington air attack looks dangerous. 
  • Smart contract structure for the Redskins with Richardson. 
  • Zach Brown's contract is a 10/10 for the Redskins. A tackling machine that can actually improve from a strong 2017 season. Getting him back changed the entire tenor of Redskins free agency, as the team went from quietly sitting out the spending sprees (minus the Richardson move) to locking up their most important defensive player. 
  • Brown back, along with Mason Foster, gives the Redskins two strong inside linebackers. It's hard to remember now, but last September, that Redskins defense looked fierce. Injuries robbed the unit of a chance to completely gel and improve, but 2018 brings a new opportunity for that.
  • Offensively, the Redskins had to invest at wide receiver in free agency. The money for Allen Robinson got crazy and the team was smart to move forward with Richardson. He fits their desired profile: Young player coming off a rookie contract on a career upswing. 
  • The Redskins did not invest at running back, despite Jay Gruden and Doug Williams saying the team must improve at the position. Frankly, the Isaiah Crowell contract with the Jets was quite affordable, and he's a player some team sources had interest in. The Redskins do not have the luxury of taking a running back early in the draft, and I'd argue they shouldn't even look at RB in the second round. The Redskins should be focused up front on the offensive and defensive lines. A dream scenario: A player like Vita Vea or Da'Ron Payne at 13, and then Ohio State interior offensive lineman Billy Price at 44. Price would have been a first-round lock but for a pectoral injury at the Scouting Combine. Medicals say he should be fine for training camp. Washington has shown a proclivity to draft players that slip due to injury concerns (Kendall Fuller in 2016, Fabian Moreau in 2017) and Price could fit the same mold. 
  • The vacancy at left guard has not been addressed, and wasn't going to be addressed in free agency, or at least not in the early days where the big money gets paid out. Washington has more than $26 million invested this season in just three players on their offensive line (Trent Williams at $14M, Morgan Moses at $5M, Brandon Scherff at almost $7M) and the team knows Scherff will cost more money soon. The Jaguars just gave Andrew Norwell $30 million guaranteed; the guard market has arrived. The 'Skins will want to keep Scherff, and to do it, they need to keep some cash on hand. That means the new left guard will either be a budget free agent find, or come from the draft.
  • To that point, the team viewed Spencer Long expendable. He was well liked by players and coaches, but has never played a full 16-game season and missed half the year in 2017. Also, the emergence of Chase Roullier helped the team move forward without Long. 


  • A bit of a surprise to see Trent Murphy leave, but he got good money from the Bills. Washington liked Murphy, and wanted to keep him, but not at the price Buffalo paid. 
  • What happened to Ryan Grant is complete junk. The Ravens are a first-class organization, but that was a bush league move. The guy has never missed a game in four years and now he can't pass a physical?!? C'mon man. Hoping the best for Ryan and will be interested to see if his represenatives seek retribution from Baltimore. 
  • Bashaud Breeland sure likes to keep it interesting. Why sign a contract if you know you have a hurt foot and can't pass a physical? Why would the agent not disclose that? Maybe it was disclosed, but that situation just seems so weird. The Redskins were never bringing Breeland back, something I reported as far back as December, but now it seems Breeland's next NFL team will have to wait to see when his foot can pass a physical. Bree is a good and funny dude, hope he heals up. 
  • Two crazy things from one draft class: The 'Skins NAILED their 2014 draft haul. Without a first round pick, they got five solid contributors in Murphy, Moses, Long, Breeland and Grant. But now, after their rookie contracts have all expired, only Moses remains with the team. Bizarre. 

  • Credit where it's due: The 2014 Draft belonged to a certain Bruce Allen. That was the year after the Shanahan crew was fired and the year before Scot McCloughan was hired. Credit where it's due. 
  • I think a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie deal gets done. I think a Junior Galette deal might get done. 
  • Ndamukong Suh is still out there. Just saying. 
  • So is Bennie Logan. Just saying. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!