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Michael Phelps - Greatest Athlete or Greatest Swimmer
Much has been made of Michael Phelps' record setting eighth gold medal from last night. Obviously, this is an amazing feat, but how much of the actual numbers depend on his sport of choice? I would never sit here and deny the fact that he is the greatest swimmer of all time, but calling him the greatest athlete of all time may be taking it too far.

The fact is, there are very few other olympic sports that would even make it possible for a single athlete to win eight gold medals in a single games. Taking a quick look at the event list, swimming tops out at a massive 17 medal opportunities. Besides that, there are only four other categories that feature eight or more possibilities.

  • Running There are 14 different medal races in the olympic games. This is the next best opportunity for a non-swimmer to even come close to Phelps' record this year. The problem here is that runners rarely ever even think about competing in that many events, as distances vary greatly and the difference between sprinting and running hurdles is significant.

  • Shooting I'm not going to pretend to know much about shooting, but there are nine medal opportunities in this sport. It doesn't seem too out there to think that a single person could compete in all nine, but even if they won them they would never be considered in the same breath as Phelps, given the difference in physical stamina required between the sports.

  • Gymnastics There are eight medal opportunities here, but the actual skills required to win them all vary massively, from floor exercise to rings. The only reason it's in consideration is because one of them is the all-around. Has a sweep ever been done before? Obviously not. My question is, has one ever been attempted?

  • Rowing The final opportunity based on pure medal counts is Rowing. There are eight different events here, which would require a perfect run. Again, I doubt this has even ever been attempted.

So you have to wonder, what if more medal opportunities were added to other sports? Being a huge basketball fan, I can't help but wonder how well Lebron or Kobe would do if given more medal opportunities. What would it take to give these basketball legends a chance at eclipsing Phelps' record? Well going by the numbers, they would need 17 different medal opportunities. So what would those be?

Let's start out with the obvious; varying the number of players. 5 on 5, 4 on 4, 3 on 3, 2 on 2, and 1 on 1 would all have to be included. This jumps us right up to five medal opportunities. I think both 5 on 5 and 4 on 4 could be played full court, but the rest should go to a half court rule set. How sweet would it be to see Kobe and Lebron compete for the 1 on 1 gold medal?

Next, let's jump right into what is already done in the All Star game. If they can judge a gymnastics floor competition, they sure as heck can judge a Dunk Contest. A Skills Course would be entertaining to watch, with the person who finishes in the fastest time getting the gold medal. 3-Point Shooting is another obvious one. While we are here, we might as well extend the thought a little big and throw in Foul Shooting. Heck, if they can judge a dunk contest, they surely could figure out a way to also judge a nice Dribbling Floor Exercise. Lastly, I guess we should include that weird 3-Ball thing. We are trying to get to 17 after all.

That brings us up to 11. Man, it's starting to sound kind of cool isn't it? We are going to have to pull out all of the stops to get to 17. Let's hit the playgrounds. Might as well throw Horse in here. Remember Knockout? That'd be pretty entertaining too. I used to play Twenty-One as a kid. That every man for themselves mentality would surely make for good TV. What are we up to now? 14?

Alright, let's regroup. If they are shooting free throws and three pointers, let's see how people can handle a Half Court Shootout... I'm running out of steam here, so bear with me for these final two. I think there should be both an Offense Medal and Defense Medal awarded. My idea here is to hand them out after a series of 1 on 1 opportunities. Once all of the entrants have been sorted out, they will take turns going at each other player five times. Every score gives the offensive player a point. Every stop gives the defensive player a point. At the end, the offensive guy with the most points gets a gold and the defensive guy with the most points gets a gold.

I know the second half of these event ideas are an exercise in silliness, but I still think some really cool things could be done to give all athletes more medal opportunities. I can tell you right now that I would love watching every single one of those basketball events. How cool would it be to see a 40-something guy come in and beat out Lebron for the free throw shooting gold? Hey, at least I didn't take the stroke mentality when coming up with this list and include things like 5 on 5 while only skipping.

Photo came from Reuters.
By Mike on August 17, 2008 at 2:33pm EDT Topic(s): olympics michael phelps swimming medals basketball sports

fruehdom Other crazy olympic sports:
1) Steeplechase. It involves running 3000 meters while jumping over several wooden barriers, one of which has a pool of water beneath it.
2) Trampoline Gymnastics. I haven't watched this one yet, but I think the name says it all.
Any others I've missed? I know there are plenty more where those came from...
8/18/2008 at 10:31pm EDT
Mike Hah, I just watched trampoline gymnastics yesterday. The announcers kept calling it a sport... Now I'm sorry, but I don't really feel like sport is the right label for it. While I won't deny the amount of athleticism and fitness required... it's definitely more performance than sport.
8/19/2008 at 11:14am EDT
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