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19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?

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19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?

By PAUL NEWBERRY

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.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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