Michael Phelps's 2012 Olympics have finally gone from weird-disappointment to valedictory-Olympic-send-off, at least theoretically. He's got 21 medals, 17 of them gold, and he finished off his last individual event, the 100m butterfly, with another gold. This is remarkable, because nobody's done it before, and I think it's eminently clear—as it was before London, really—that Michael Phelps is the best Olympic swimmer who ever lived. While I think this is a little early, though, to call in the fun police, it's worth mentioning, as we did Friday on the national, that Michael Phelps is a prime example of swimming medal inflation.â†µ
Team sports, in particular, suffer in relation to the individual disciplines—no matter how good the members of the US Olympic women's soccer team have been since their run of dominance began in 1996, they topped out at one gold medal per year. And they had to share it, at least as far as medal count goes. But Cyd Zeigler makes the point that Olympic swimmers are even more party to inflation than track and field stars, since they can win gold for multiple strokes at the same distance.â†µ
All of this is only interesting if you're trying to call Michael Phelps the Best Olympian Ever; certainly Carl Lewis's people would like to have a word with anybody who does that. It's no reason not to celebrate Phelps's singular achievements as we all pretend he won't try a comeback sometime between now and Rio in 2016.