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AztecLady sent me this very interesting opinion piece by MSNBC’s Michael Ventre.

Basically, he’s questioning whether Michael Phelps can really be called, the greatest athlete ever. One of the greatest, perhaps, but the greatest?

Ventre writes:

Questioning an American institution as beloved as Michael Phelps has its pitfalls. Picketers may gather. Boycotts may be organized. French fries may once again become Freedom Fries, although from what I gather about Phelps’ diet he’d eat a few bushels of them anyway no matter what they were called.

This is not to find fault with a hero, but rather to better place him in context.

During Phelps’ astonishing performances in the Olympic Games in Beijing, a rush to judgment has taken place. Instead of labeling him as the greatest swimmer ever, or as one of the greatest athletes ever, a faction has taken to proclaiming him as the greatest athlete ever.

I think that the media are always too quick to label people. It seems to be part of their whole, build ’em up to knock ’em down strategy.

Ventre continues:

The essential problem with Phelps’ candidacy is his sport. He is a swimmer, and he trains like a madman. He devours those 12,000 calories per day because he burns them off in five hours-plus of daily training. Swimming is superb exercise, and anyone who can dominate the sport like Phelps has done is worthy of laurel wreaths, parades and an appearance on “Letterman.”

But swimming happens to be a sport that provides numerous opportunities to win gold medals. Phelps won eight gold medals because he was able to enter eight events. The fact that he is capitalizing on all his chances, and in record times, is indeed cause for celebration and adulation.

But consider the poor amateur wrestler. His training regimen is no less fanatical. He has to cut weight and endure injuries that accompany such a physically bruising endeavor. He gets little or no love from the American masses, because swimming is a gleaming spectacle for network television while wrestling is a gritty, sweaty and sometimes ugly grind.

And what is the wrestler’s reward after months and years of training and after persevering through a brutal tournament bracket? ONE gold medal.

How about the marathoner? Not only is his chosen sport lonely and grueling — Jim McKay’s famous description still resonates: “You must run the marathon by yourself, or not at all” — but this year it takes place in Beijing, which means a runner’s experience in the Olympic marathon is akin to placing one’s mouth over a factory smokestack.

He makes some very valid points methinks.

Look, it’s great that Phelps has won all these gold medals, but surely his achievement needs to be put into the right context?

Greatest athlete ever? Not for me I’m afraid. I’d rather put him in the category of greatest swimmer ever. But then, I’m a cynical Brit.

What say you?

Who doesn’t understand why sailing is considered an olympic sport?

I get ridiculously annoyed every time I see it on the TV.

I haven’t been this annoyed since those Scottish women, won the gold (or was it silver?) medal for curling. That was a serious WTF? moment for me.

What other so-called olympic sports do you think ought to be binned?