SwimSwam

Letter to the Editor: Do Swim Fans Spit on Spitz? Is Phelps The Clear-Cut GOAT?

This editorial was submitted by Robert Bernhardt, who is a junior swimmer at Uni High in Urbana, Illinois.

These days in light of Michael Phelps’ accomplishments, the phrase “greatest ever” is only rarely not seen within a few sentences of the name “Phelps.” Of course it makes sense that way, considering that man’s trophy cases, which are likely consuming an obscenely large part of Mr. Phelps’ abode. Twenty-two Olympic medals, eighteen gold, eight gold medals at one Olympic Games and dozens of world records, world titles and gold medals at other international competitions. He’s treated like he’s by far and away best ever, which makes sense, seeing as he was not only the first person to win eight Olympic gold medals, he was the first to win seven. Wait a minute…

Now that I think about it there was a guy who did that. A fellow named Spitz who was, until just six years ago, held that mantle of the greatest swimmer of all time. How quickly things change. Once the new hero took hold, the old one was forgotten about and shunted away. Of course Phelps did exceed Spitz, mathematical tests show again and again that eight is larger than seven, even when gold medals are in the mix. But Mark Spitz is by no means out of the conversation for the Greatest of All-Time.

People forget how good Spitz was. Phelps was the second man to hold world records in five different individual events. Spitz was the first. It’s a pity he didn’t swim the individual medley races in international competition like Phelps did to great success, because he set a short course yards American record in the 200 IM during high school, among other records he set before hitting adulthood. Seeing as like Phelps, he held world records in two out of the four strokes, it seems to be likely that this was not just a fluke or “easy” record, but a testament to Spitz’s unrealized all-around potential.

In fact in terms of world records, Spitz might be even more impressive than Phelps. At the end of his career, Spitz held world records in four different individual events. After Phelps’ retirement in 2012 he held “only” three official world records. Yet if non-textile times from 2008 and 2009 are excluded, Phelps held only one textile world record, considered of course by many to be the true record. How can Phelps be so far beyond the level of Spitz when even four years later Spitz still held two world records? How could Phelps, who lost his record in the 200 IM to a mortal enemy in 2011 (in a head to head showdown, no less) and never, never, surpassed Ian Crocker’s standard in the 100 butterfly while not wearing a piece of plastic, be considered head and shoulders better than a man who held four world records by 1971, then broke them again by large margins in 1972, retiring unbeaten and untied at the final world stage?

For the most part Spitz’ accomplishments end there, but the speculation about his talents can go on and on. Depending on who you ask he could have likely made an Olympic final in almost every event if he was given the chance. The 50m freestyle event was not introduced to the Olympics until 1988, where it was won by American legend Matt Biondi. The world record was not recorded until 1976. Mark Spitz won the shortest race in the pool at the time, the 100 freestyle. He also won the second quickest race, the 100 butterfly. In NCAA and high school swimming he was a perennial performer in 50 yard events. The 1972 season witnessed Spitz amending the record books nine time in individual events. Had the 50 been in the 1972 Olympics, could seven gold medals could have become eight, all eight in world record time? Impossible to tell for sure, but an entertaining possibility we must not entirely rule out if we wish to appreciate Spitz’ achievements.

Nor can we rule out Spitz’ performances in longer events. After all the first world record he set was in the 400 free as a teenager, and broke it twice more, trading records with other swimmers of the day. His last WR in the event came in 1968 at an insignificant meet a month before the Olympic trials in a time that actually was faster than the Olympic gold medal winner’s time. Any speculation about Spitz’s talents are most firmly based in the 400 freestyle, an event he likely could have won in the Olympics had he put his attention to it. Fans and speculators have also tossed around allegations about the 1500m freestyle. Purportedly also as a teenager Spitz came within a few seconds of breaking that WR too. Some have gone as far as to claim the record was broken in unofficial competitions or even practice. Could Spitz have been close to holding every freestyle WR, a feat never done by men since the time of World War One, and one that will surely never be repeated in the modern swimming world?

His backstroke was also an asset to his capabilities. He is rumored to have beaten the American backstroke specialists in the 100 backstroke at Olympic training camp in 1972. Those backstroke swimmers went on to win four medals in backstroke events at the Olympics that year. Considering his range, the 200 backstroke could also have been a legitimate medal opportunity for him, had the schedule been feasible. Whether he could have beaten the most successful backstroke swimmer in history, Roland Matthes, who swept the backstroke events in both 1968 and 1972 is questionable. However the possibility of competing for a medal in a tight final is not.

The individual medley was one place where Phelps was known for dominance and it would seem Spitz should have been able to do it too. Spitz was legendary in butterfly and freestyle, and one of the best backstrokers in the world. Having set an American record for yards in high school, and then continuing to improve immensely in all of his events during college, it is undoubtedly sure that he would have had a shot at setting the national record in Olympic waters. It would certainly not be stretching the truth to think that Gunnar Larson, the 1972 champion in the 200 IM, ought to be thanking his lucky stars that Spitz chose not to develop that event in favor of the others.

For those who are counting, that’s a total of six additional theoretical medals. It would be perhaps more pragmatic to now start counting the events that we know Spitz couldn’t have medaled in, starting with breaststroke and ending perhaps with the 400 IM, which was dominated by Gary Hall Sr who at one point was more than 5 seconds faster than anyone else in the world. Incredible really, that one man should be among the best in the world in nine out of thirteen individual events contested today at the Olympic Games. How could we not consider this man to be one of the greatest?

Of course Phelps’ era was not one where moustaches were in style and world records traded like falling stocks, but one where swimsuits were tested by space agencies and wisps of hair on the back of a neck were shaved and re-shaved. Phelps swam faster times and set more world records and more American records in more events with arguably more competition and still win more medals. But we should remember that Phelps is not alone, that there is Phelps, then Spitz. Then there is everyone else.

Comments

  1. Amateur says:

    You forget that Mark Spitz was bound by the rules of his era – he had to be an amateur. One can only speculate what he could have accomplished were he allowed to continue in the sport post-college as a professional.

  2. zebrafeet says:

    Also, what could Spitz have done as a post grad? Both are remarkable for different reasons. I despise the ‘greatest ever’ comparisions. I’m already dreading the Shane Gould v. Missy Franklin ones! :)

  3. Devan says:

    I’m not generally one to be “absolute” about anything, but Phelps did 10 times more for the sport than Spitz ever did. He’ll probably be remembered forever. Outside of the swimming community, nobody really knows Spitz name. Phelps all day.

  4. Flyin' says:

    Also though, don’t forget either that Michael Phelps held NAG records in distance events as well. He was one heck of a distance swimmer too, but chose to train for other events. His backstroke was nothing to be laughed at either; he could have made the Olympic team in the 100 back in ’04, ’08, or ’12, where the Americans took gold each time and silver twice.

  5. cpswims says:

    One way to look at two athletes from different eras is to examine the impact they had on the sport as a whole. I grew up in the 1970′s and was part of the club swimming boom that was in part due to the excitement generated by Mark Spitz and the 1972 games. AAU/USA Swimming seemed to fall off during the Soccer era of the late 1980′s-1990′s. My kids started their club careers in 2002 and as a parent, I got to see the Phelps effect take the sport to new levels both in terms of club participation and media coverage. This time with more staying power? Perhaps with longer careers and a deeper field on both the men’s & women’s sides, swimming will remain a popular choice for the next generation of young athletes. Thanks Mark & Michael!

  6. bobo gigi says:

    Wow! It’s the day of the comparisons today on swimswam!
    After Janet Evans vs Katie Ledecky, here comes Mark Spitz vs Michael Phelps.
    I think this article will make people react.

    First, thanks. I have learned many things about Mark Spitz. Truly an amazing champion. Thanks to youtube, I have watched some of his accomplishments.

    Second, I hate to compare the champions from different periods but we must admit that the Michael’s career is so long and so successful from the beginning to the end (and it’s perhaps not finished) and that the competition is so bigger and more universal today.

    Third, it’s not the Michael’s fault if Mark Spitz hasn’t swum longer or hasn’t won as many gold medals or medals as him.

    Fourth, sorry but the 4th paragraph is a little stupid. The part about the world records has made me laugh. If MP had retired in 2008 you wouldn’t had written he had “only” 3 world records. And the words you use give the weird impression you almost qualify MP’s records as suited records. He has begun to break world records in 2001. It’s not his fault if the fast suits came in 2008. He has been the best before the suits’ period, during the suits’ period (even if some suited swimmers like Biedermann or Cavic have bothered him) and after the suits’ period.

    Fifth, I like and approve your last 2 phrases. You admit that Michael Phelps is the greatest. Then there’s Mark Spitz. And then the others.

    Sixth, sorry if I was a little harsh but it’s perhaps because I watch swimming since 2000 and I’ve begun to be interested in this sport thanks to Michael Phelps. I know there were big stars before him but for me, swimming means Michael Phelps. He’s not only my favorite swimmer but also my favorite sportsman. When the US relay has beaten France in 2008, I was disappointed for my country France but at the same time I was very happy for Michael and his gold medals’ quest.

    • Robert Bernhardt says:

      I’m sorry of there was confusion.

      I don’t discredit Phelps’ records from 2001-2007 at all.

      I was thinking more along the lines of “If Phelps is the best ever, then why does Ryan Lochte hold the world record in the 200 IM?” I think the question begs asking: if Michael Phelps’ lifetime best time came in a race where he got second to Lochte, is Phelps better than Lochte in that event? Yes, I would hazard to say, because he went under 1:55 first and won more times on the big stage, especially the biggest stage. But is he THAT much better? Maybe not, some would say.

      Likewise in the 400 IM and 200 free. Phelps lost both of his textile world records in those races, including the 400 IM in another head to head competition with Lochte. Does this that Lochte is better at the 400 IM? Again I would say Phelps’ performances were more impressive (4:03 is incredible, legskin or not, and he still holds the championship record of 4:06, which he did after a week’s worth of being the best ever instead of at the beginning of the week like Lochte’s Olympic performance) but is he even head and shoulder better than his own peers, never mind the all time greats?

  7. swimcoach says:

    I think its quite easy to believe that spitz has been forgotten. I doubt most swimmers have any knowledge of Duke Kahanamoku or even Johnny Weismuller who set over 60 world records and was never defeated in his entire career.

  8. CoachGB says:

    I was already on a comment when the above comment was made. I am not sure if the individual appreciates the history of swimming as msny have contributed to swimming over the years. When ai started my coach taught me to appreciate the accomplishments of the past reading of Weissmuller records from 50-800 andundefeated over a great span.
    Spitz didn’t have a communication world or Proffessionalism as today. Heck gas used to be 20 cents a gallon and with minimum wage you could buy 5 gallons, things change.
    Robert does a fine comprehensive on Mark especially on the backstroke in Olympic training camp which I have heard back then.
    Let’s add some more with Spitz’s first national medal in the 1500 at 65 nationals at Maumee (Toledo) Ohio. With Steve Krause WR from Cascade went to Harvard, then Nelson, Burton,Wall,Robie,Heim, Spitz and Charlton.. He was 18th in 200 and 10th in 400.
    In 1967 set 400 WR in June at Haywood relays broken by Mosconi France set it again in July then Charlton did it. In June 68 set it again at Haywood Meet in June. I believe he was close to 1500 record when Echaverria of Mexico set WR at Santa Clara Invite.
    Everything of the past is what has brought the sport to were it is and it is on a roll all over the globe.

  9. Barry says:

    I don’t understand the “only” 1 comment? In 2007, pre-suits, Phelps had WRs in the 200 Free, 200 Fly, and 200/400 IM. That’s 4.

    • Robert Bernhardt says:

      When Mark Spitz retired he held 7 world records, 4 individually. When Michael Phelps retired (for the first time?) he held 1 textile world record individually.

      • Breastroker19 says:

        Maybe winning the gold medals at his peak and retiring would have been more impressive but MP came back and showed everyone that 4 more gold medals past his prime was still possible.

        Michael Jordan is still considered the GOAT even though he wasn’t scoring 37 a game for the bulls. He was dropping 20+ at age 40 for the wizards isn’t that still greatness?

        • ERVINFORTHEWIN says:

          When i was watching Jordan back in the 1992/1993 play offs , For me he was the Goat without a doubt . He is still one of my favourite Inspiration with Michael Johnson . 3 Michaels are my true inspirations . M. Phelps is one of them for sure .

  10. PAC12BACKER says:

    Spitz was the best. Irregardless of the argument that Spitz had to cut his career short due to the amateur status of the sport, as there really was no option to go pro, Spitz has one trump card: MP never won the golden premier event in all of swimming – the100M freestyle. Spitz did and would have won the 50M also, if it had been in place.

  11. grizzly says:

    Phelps also held national age group records in the 500, American record in the 400 early in his career. Was 0.03 away from the 100 back world record at one point, and also very close to the 200 back world record.

    If we are wondering how many medals Spitz could’ve won if he A. trained for those events and B. the schedule was feasible, you could do the same for Phelps. Potentially: both backstrokes, both butterflies, both IMs, both mid-distance freestyle events. Also would’ve medaled in 100 free if he swam it, could’ve won if he concentrated on it more.

    Also, the competition is significantly greater now. It’s like comparing old baseball pitching statistics to modern day pitchers. No one will ever match Cy Young’s 511 wins, but does that mean he’s automatically the best pitcher ever, and no one can come close?

    • Eagleswim says:

      Remember that phelps also would have won the individual 100 free with his lead off leg at the 2007 worlds. Spitz also did not have semis. So to say “well if spitz had been able to fit these events into his schedule….” Is a bit silly. If if he had made any single event his priority, he would almost certainly have had world records in any event between 100 to 400 free, both fly, both back, and both IMs. And to you second point, I think it was Brendan Hansen who said of phelps vs spitz, that the world wasn’t fast when spitz did it. I don’t remember the exact quote but it was something like that

  12. morrow3 says:

    Spitz isn’t fondly remembered because of his “me first” attitude. There were many reports that Sherm had to threaten him to make him swim the 800 free relay to get his 7th gold. While Michael gave up a spot for a team mate to have a moment of glory.

    Also don’t forget that Spitz bragged he would get 7 in 68, and that fell a little short.

    Being a Champion takes more than just a great performance in the pool. I agree that both men did a great deal in their era to improve the visibility of swimming and both should be remembered for their accomplishments. I agree there were pros and cons to both athletes, and I lived through Spitz as a swimmer and through Phelps as a coach.

    I go with Phelps.

  13. bobo gigi says:

    I wouldn’t have thought that Michael Phelps needs a French advocate to defend him. :)
    Correct me if I’m wrong but I have the strange feeling that most of the older generation of swimming fans is a little nostalgic and supports Mark Spitz while most of the younger generation like me agrees to say that Michael Phelps is by far the greatest. Classic. :)
    But open the eyes.
    The competition is so more global today.
    His consistency in the huge results since 2000 is absolutely amazing.
    12 years at this level!
    Imagine all the work it has required.
    And what a mental!
    Swimming has never been as popular. Thanks to Michael.
    Most of the young American swimmers and not only American you see now break all these NAG records we comment every weekend have grew up with him as idol. You can call it the Phelps generation.
    We will never see again in the water a legend like him.

    • ERVINFORTHEWIN says:

      The only thing M. Phelps didn’t focused on and i wish he did is the 100 free individual racing . Apart from that personnal wish , I choose Phelps as the Goat . My actually first Swimming inspiration and Idol was Matt Biondi at Seoul Olympics 1998 . He is for me the Goat N°2 . His 88 Olympics performances were astonishing Both individually and with Team Usa ( 2 gold medals / 2 relays ) .

  14. Triguy says:

    Phelps won gold in 2 events at 3 consecutive olympics. That splits it for me, not that I thing a split was needed. Phelps wins it for me

  15. bobo gigi says:

    But it’s even not only a question of age or generation.
    For example if you ask me who is the greatest between Lewis and Bolt, I will answer you without any hesitation Lewis, and yet I have watched much more often Bolt on TV.
    Bolt is the best sprinter but Lewis has won the 100, the 200, the 4X100 relay and 4 long jump olympic titles in a row! Lewis has a winning career from 1983 to 1996.
    However, if you ask me who are the true greatest athletes in track and field, I will tell you the decathletes. These guys are unbelievable. Ashton Eaton is a legend and unfortunately almost nobody knows him.

    • Robert Bernhardt says:

      True about Ashton. I once saw an ESPN “Sportscience” thing claiming Lebron James is a better athletes than Eaton.

      Nuh uh. Ashton can run faster and farther, jump higher and farther, do hurdles better and throw a couple of track objects better. Lebron is taller and can shoot a basketball better. It’s no contest.

      • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:

        Ok, this is a bit off-topic, but I think the arguments you’ve made for Eaton being better are misleading. Eaton can high-jump higher and further and do hurdles better, but that doesn’t mean that he can ‘jump higher’ on the basis of being a better athlete. Those things are all very technique driven, just as doing a 360 dunk between your legs, dribbling, and shooting a basketball are technique driven. It’s not a fair comparison of being a better athlete to discount Lebron’s technique-driven abilities in favor of Eaton’s.

    • aswimfan says:

      But Lewis failed drug test, no?

      :)

      • Rafael says:

        Lewis might arguably be the greatest cheater on all male athletics history.. He even admitted doing so.. and said: who cares? And with USTF covering it all..

  16. ChestRockwell says:

    1. Spitz seven went mostly under the radar until he had 5 golds locked up, then everyone started paying attention. Phelps was under the microscope from 2003 – 2008. How he dealt with the pressure might be the most remarkable part of the feat.

    2. The Americans were a lock for every relay in the ’72, and there were only a handful of other swimmers at the level of the Americans. Phelps had to not only have insane teammate performances to win the relays, but he also faced specialists in almost every race who didn’t swim much else.

    3. Sptiz didn’t have semi-finals in any races, Phelps had four of them. That is a lot of extra swimming.

    Those three reasons, just off the top of my head, are good enough to make Phelps the clear-cut GOAT. What Spitz did was remarkable, but in any context, Phelps’ 8 and his overall career aren’t even close to anything.

  17. cynthia curran says:

    He was the star of my childhood Mr Spitz and was a amazing swimmer for his day. For one thing Michael is about 3 inches taller. Swimmers were a little shorter in those days. Well, Spitz was suppose to be the star of Mexico City so you are incorrect on that. Spitz like Michael in US swimming was a star at a young aged. Michael at 15 and Spitz at 16. Would swimmers from the 1970′s swim about 2 or 3 seconds faster in the 100′s with Dolphin kicks and so forth I don’t know.

  18. cynthia curran says:

    Actually, Mark Spitz for 2 years was known as much as Michael. He did the milk commercial and even teen magazines like 16 and so forth had an article on Mark Spitz in 1972. He appeared on the Bob Hope show and Emergency a 1970′s show being 56 I remember things about Spitz.

  19. Hannah Saiz Hannah Saiz says:

    This is one of those times when I wish SwimSwam had a Like button. Kudos, both for pointing out how amazing Spitz was and educating those who may have forgotten the name (or worse – never knew it!).

  20. Mead says:

    Spitz was a great swimmer for 1 Olympics, Phelps was unquestionably the greatest swimmer in the world spanning 3 Olympics. Spitz had great accomplishments, but Phelps accomplished more and sustained it for a much longer time. Not discrediting Mark, but he was in the sport long enough to compete at a high level but failed to do so as much as Phelps, remember the 1968 Olympics. Phelps=Greatest Athlete of All Time, regardless of sport if you base it on dominance within sport.

  21. cynthia curran says:

    Phelps usually peak at the right meet the Olympics or near that in London. Spitz peak at one Olympics, so its either good timing or some luck.

  22. cynthia curran says:

    Shane Gould held ALL freestyle WRs AND 200 IM WR SIMULTANEOUSLY.

    Well, Shirley Bashashoff was almost the US Females version but not that good at Im even if she won it at Olympic trails in 1976 at the 400 distance. Bashashoff swam against Gould and beat her in the 100 meters in 1972 but Sandy Nelson won the race. Bahashoff hed to compete against the juice up East Germans uncertain how many races she would have won in 1976 if they were not Juice up. Bashashoff swam at the 1976 olympics the 100 to 800 and had several silver medals and the girls won the 4 by 100 freestyle relay against East Germany.

    • aswimfan says:

      And Babashoff never broke WR in 100 and 1,500 free, let alone in IM.

      To this day, Shane Gould remain the only female swimmer ever to win 5 individual medals in an Olympics.

      • ERVINFORTHEWIN says:

        That will probably be changed by 2016 by a certain Missy Franklin or Katie ledecky .

        • Sean S says:

          Katie won’t have more than 3 with the 200, 400, and 800. Missy tops out at 4 with the 100, 200, and both backstrokes unless she starts training seriously for the IM similar to Coughlin in 2008 and the 100 and 200 are no lock for medals.

        • aswimfan says:

          I can’t see Katie Ledecky winning 5 individual medals in Rio, unless you are thinking Ledecky entering and medaling in 50 and 100 free as well?

          Missy may have a shot if she adds 200 IM to her repertoire (to the absolute dismay of Bobo Gigi, I’m sure), although winning 200 free and IM medals may prove to be a difficult task (and she won’t be guaranteed to represent USA in 200 free anyway if Schmitt is back to her best and Ledecky keep getting faster in 200 free), not to mention medaling in 100 free against the likes of Campbell, Sjoestrom and Kromowidjojo.

          There’s a reason why so far in the history of the Olympics there have been only two swimmers (Gould and Phelps) to have won 5 individual medals in one olympics despite the peak of drug-fueled east german women: It’s bloody difficult.

  23. Liz B Onest says:

    Spitz and Phelps are two amazing and accomplished swimmers. I will always be impressed with what Spitz did with long hair, a nylon suit, and no goggles.

  24. Toby says:

    Regardless of who you think is the greatest ever, Mark Spitz will go down as one of the most disliked swimmers in history. His ego and arrogance are unsurpassed. I recall a meet in 1970 where Gary Hall Sr. Broke the world record in the 200 meter butterfly… Everyone was congratulating him except Spitz (whose record was broken) who made it a point to say to Gary, “I will break the record again next week.” (which he actually did).

    • Billy says:

      Actually Toby, I think it took Spitz a year to break Gary Hall’s record – but I heard a similar story about Spitz and Jerry Heidenreich

  25. cynthia curran says:

    Well, Bashashoff was the only American wmanto win silver medals in the 100 to the 800 in a Olympics in two Olympics. In 1972 she won the silver in the 100 and 200 and in 1976 the 200, 400 and 800. Sliver is not as good as gold but its pretty good. Yes, Gould had the world records in all the Freestyles in 1971 but there were no East Germans except for 13 year old Ender in the 1972 Olympics. As for Mark Spitz we was 21 years old or so when Hall broke the world record a young man, he now is a 62 year old man when you hold something against a person for what they did in their early 20′s. There are lots of swimmers when they are young that don’t have the best personality. Hall Sr didn’t typer right for the 1972 Olympics it might have been his coach at the time Flipp Darr.fault.

    • aswimfan says:

      If we are playing the “ifs” “could have” game like what you are doing, then I could also say Gould could also have won more medals and WRs had she not retired so young.

  26. cynthia curran says:

    I mean Mark Spitz was probably 20 or 21 when Hall Sr broke his butterfly record.

  27. Chuck Beatty says:

    Bottom line is that both men are inspirational swimmers. Magically put them in the same pool at the same age with the same technical and training advantages and it’d be a helluva race. We can argue the outcome until the pool freezes over.

    In my mind, what’s important is the impact they’ve had on the sport. Phelps has inspired a new generation of kids to take up a sport they might not have considered a few years ago. Some of those kids will be the champions of the future (and maybe one will be compared to Phelps for GOAT status someday).

    Spitz did the same thing in his time. If you look at US Masters events such as the 3000/6000/1-Hour postals, there is greater participation in the 50-54 age group than in any other. Those people are the kids, like me, who were young age group swimmers during the ’72 Olympics. We were inspired to pursue greatness. In some small way, we are Spitz’s legacy and I’m thankful to be part of it every day.

    • Sportin in DC says:

      You are exactly right Chuck. I am also one of those swimmers from the Spitz era and my age group is stacked in masters swimming. I had the Spitz poster in my room and met him at the Philadelphia nationals in 1976. It was a great moment for me and I am also thankful to be a part of his legacy. It doesn’t really matter who the GOAT is. Everyone needs a hero.

  28. The Beach says:

    The topic is interesting but the number of erroneous statements is off the charts. Let’s just start with Spitz. He DID have semi finals in the 100 fly and 100 free, not the 200′s. And I’m almost sure that Gould did not hold the IM record at the same time as the freestyle records, if at all. As for Spitz and Phelps, I think the are similar in talent and domination of their respective eras. However, Phelps was much more consistent in BIG meets over a much longer time frame.Spitz had a poor 68 Olympics and several national meets. Phelps almost always performed great at the biggest moments. I think Phelps was the touger racer in close races. I think Phelps’ 08 performance was only slightly better than Spitz in 72. Both had unreal pressure placed on them. In conclusion, equal on talent, Phelps gets the nod on overall performance.

    • aswimfan says:

      “And I’m almost sure that Gould did not hold the IM record at the same time as the freestyle records, if at all.”

      Gould broke the 200 IM WR in 2:23.07 to win 200 IM gold in Munich.

  29. coach says:

    “IF” is the middle word of LIFE. IF spitz this, IF spitz that. at the end of the day, spitz was the greatest swimmer of all time for more than 30 years. records were meant to be broken. now, after 30+ years, phelps IS the greatest swimmer or our time and all time, until someone exceeds his achievements.

    there will be those comparisons with the women as well. right now it is missy’s and katie’s time. in the 1980′s it was tracy caulkins’ time.

    comparing the athletes of different periods in history is ridiculous. we know so much more now, versus 30+ years ago, of course swimming should be faster.

    let’s just appreciate what those before us have done to set the bar and then just go after raising the bar.

  30. Don Dunfee says:

    There are many great swimmers. From my era I would nominate Don Schollander. Had the Tokyo Olympics offered a “full” program there is little doubt that he would have won six gold medals. Aside from his accomplishments, he was a great promoter of the sport with his unfailing politeness and his ability to inspire and connect with younger swimmers.

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About Robert Bernhardt

Robert 100 fly June '13

Robert, a Canadian-born native of Champaign Illinois, is a high school junior at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, England.... Read More »