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Phelps vs Bolt vs Biles - Who is the greatest of all time?

As much as Olympics history is concerned, the names of these three — a swimmer, a sprinter, and a gymnast - would remain etched as the Gods of the Games. But what if we try to find out who among the three is the G.O.A.T.?

Micheal Phelps, Simone Biles, Usain Bolt

Micheal Phelps, Simone Biles, Usain Bolt


Md Imtiaz

Updated: 7 Jun 2021 1:48 AM GMT

The Olympic Games is arguably the grandest stage of world sports, where hundreds of athletes from across the universe perform outstanding feats for two weeks to win not just medals but also pride, honour, and respect for their countries. After an undesirable wait for five years, the Tokyo Olympics is knocking at the doors. Despite the subdued grandeur for coronavirus, we cannot resist the temptation of floating in the fervour of the Games once again.

Although many legends and heroes have been born in the hallowed venues of the Olympics, three names stand out. Many have left their contemporaries trailing in their wake, but these three have soundly beaten every competitor ever to perform: Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Simone Biles. As much as Olympics history is concerned, the names of these three — a swimmer, a sprinter, and a gymnast - would remain etched as the Gods of the Games. But what if we try to find out who among the three is the G.O.A.T.?

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps

The swimmer from Baltimore shares a story of enduring class. A veteran of five games, 28 Olympic medals of which 23 are gold, is what defines Phelps. And since the 2016 Rio Games, every individual medal count until the indefinite future will be topped by the US swimmer, ten ahead of Larisa Latynina, listed second. One legitimate argument for Phelps' greatness is his sport offers more medal opportunities to an individual than any other track or field competition. But one cannot overlook the number of events Phelps excels in compared to any other elite swimmer. Phelps has under his belt 28 golds in individual events at an elite level. Ryan Lochte is second, with 12 golds. An average male swimmer peak at the age of 22, but Phelps, who made a return at 31 in the 2016 Rio Olympics, bagged 5 golds and a silver. The average number of world and Olympic titles won by male swimmers with at least one gold by 31 is just 2.2. If we see the gold medal-winning trajectory of Phelps, it looks like he took part in different sports. Great swimmers are usually world-class in one stroke. If it's the right stroke, they might win the medley, too. But Phelps has multiple individual golds in butterfly, freestyle, medley and a silver in the backstroke at the 2006 Pan-Pacific Championships. Phelps also became the first swimmer and just the third athlete in history to win an event at four straight Olympics the 200 medley in 2004, 2008, 2012.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, and no one had ever won three successive gold medals in the Olympics in 100m and 200m sprints. Like Phelps, Bolt is ahead of any other sprinter in terms of gold medals in elite international individual events. When the Jamaican set the 100m world record of 9.58s in 2009, Bolt's had 4.3 standard deviations (SD) better timing than the mean of the 50 quickest men. His world record of 19.3 seconds in 200m in 2008 was 4.6 SD better than the top 50 sprinters. Nobody in Rio Olympics came within three-tenths of Bolt's 9.58 in the 100m. His 200 record - 19.19 - was 0.83 better than any other competitor.

To lend perspective, the 200m record was broken by four men with Bolt being the latest. But the timing he has set, could last till decades. In the 11 races Bolt ran in the Olympics, he attained eight gold (Initially nine - In 2017, he was stripped off one gold from 4x400 men's relay of 2008 because a blood sample taken from Carter after the race was retested and found positive for a banned substance).

Simone Biles

The modern-day marvel Simone Biles is the America's most decorated gymnast in the world. Since her debut at elite level in the 2013 World Championships, Biles has been regarded not as the best of the current crop of US gymnasts, but potentially the best ever. She has a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. As Biles is raring to take one of her best shots at the Tokyo Olympics, she has the potential to break all records including Vitaly Scherbo's 33 medals and Larisa Latynina's 32. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Biles won individual gold medals in all-around, vault and floor; bronze in balance beam; and gold as part of the United States team. Biles is a five-time World all-around champion, five-time World floor exercise champion, three-time World balance beam champion, two-time World vault champion, a six-time United States national all-around champion, and a member of the gold medal-winning American teams at the four World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. At 23, Biles is the gymnast with the most World medals (25) and most World gold medals (19), having surpassed Scherbo's record 23 World medals by winning her 24th and 25th, both gold, at the 2019 competition in Stuttgart.[6] She is the female gymnast with the most World all-around titles (5). She is also the first female gymnast since Daniela Silivaș in 1988 to win a medal on every event at a single Olympic Games or World Championships, having accomplished this feat at the 2018 World Championships in Doha. Biles has yet to commit to competing at either the Worlds or Olympics after Tokyo 2020. The huge and highly specialised physical demands of women's gymnastics today mean many retire in their early-twenties. Even if she's not participating in Paris 2024, an all gold show in Tokyo would ensure her to be the greatest at the Olympics.

Comparing the three to find out who is the GOAT?

The yardstick to analyse who is the greatest of all time has to be the performances and percentage of medals in their peak years, since one cannot strike a balance in the number of events they have taken part at the Olympics and World Championships in their entire career, considering Biles has another Olympics at hand

If we bring them to a scale of their best Olympic performances, the table will look like:

Best Olympics of three playersEventsGold Medals
Michael Phelps (Beijing 2008)88
Usain Bolt (London 2012)33
Simone Biles (Rio 2016)64

We also take a look at the World Championships gold medals for a tenure of seven years:

World Championships tenureGold Medals
Michael Phelps (2001-2007)17
Usain Bolt (2009-2015)11
Simone Biles (2013-2019)19

The analysis was simply drawn just to give our audience a perspective from three different sports. And here we have a winner - Michael Phelps. This comparison is no knock to Biles or Bolt since pitting the three otherwise is impossible. Biles could eclipse Phelps, if she manages to win six gold medals in the six events she competes in Tokyo Olympics. Three of them are the GOATs in their field of play. Phelps is the best swimmer, Bolt is the best sprinter and Biles is the best gymnast

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