Phelps clinches 11th Olympic Gold to break yet another record

In what has turned out to be a very fast news day (there are so many events to cover it’s just too easy to be overwhelmed!) Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, clinched his 11th Olympic gold to become the athlete with the most Olympic golds ever!

Phelps with his latest gold medal (Credit: Getty Images)

The new record surpasses the likes of other top OIympics gold medal holders, such as the frequently mentioned Mark Spitz (also a swimmer), Larysa Latynina, Paavo Nurmi, and Carl Lewis who have all won nine Olympic gold medals a-piece.

This achievement is worthy of celebration, and it helps that Phelps is a thoroughly likeable chap really who has not only shown himself to be a dedicated swimmer, but appears to have the additional quality of being humble about his achievement, something I believe that is very endearing to almost everyone but the harshest of critics.

Some reports have called him the greatest Olympian, but I think others were more accurate in saying that this new record makes him the most successful Olympian in terms of gold medals. There was certainly a lot of debate going on the BBC’s Tom Fordyce‘s blog article Is Phelps really the greatest? which I have found to be a good read, although a number of users seem to have their pet favourite ‘great’ Olympian (including Jesse Owens). The blog post and subsequent comments continuously asks the question: What makes the ‘greatest’ Olympian?

An Olympian who has scored the most medals? The gymnast Larissa Latynina (according to Tom Fordyce) has the biggest medal total ever of 18. Or an Olympian who has scored the most golds in individual events? Carl Lewis has a claim here with 7, says TF. Or is it the Olympian who has stood the test of time and won gold in consecutive Olympiads,? Cue name drop Sir Steve Redgrave who has won 5 golds in 5 Olympic games. Mark Spitz still holds the record for the most golds in just one Olympiad (9) and even Jessie Owens is still remembered for his achievements. The TimesCalvin Shulman has helpfully produced a list of what he regards to be the Top 100 Olympics Athletes, the kind of list which is always worth a browse when reading up about such matters.

I’m going to dodge the question here, and instead move on to an amusing (but probably true, what do I know?) analysis of Phelps by Steve Parry, a former Olympic (swimming) medallist who is currently guest-blogging for the BBC. He talks in more detail about What makes Phelps so special? which was so helpfully summarised by this picture:

Essential requirements when building your perfect swimming robot…

Apparently our ‘man-of-the-moment’ has short legs but a long torso, which really helps with the swimming speed since there is “less drag and more propulsion“; and according to Steve Parry, being a “6ft 4ins, 83kg man” generally means you’re seriously under-weight! Like Ian Thorpe, Phelps also has the added advantage of having extremely large paddle-like hands and flipper-like feet (SP helpfully points out that Phelps is a size-14) which help propel him even further through the water.

Combine these features with:

  • a longer than average wing-span
  • low body fat
  • muscles that produce half the lactic acid of rivals

and there you have it, the essential guide on how to become the next swimming world champion… and possibly another great Olympian!

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