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Column: 'The Greatest' debate

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Everyone wants to be the greatest and certainly everyone has an opinion on who is.

The London Olympics, which wraps up competition on Sunday, has provided plenty of debate on this topic, from greatest Olympian to greatest athlete.

We all know where Usain Bolt ranks himself on these lists. It's very clear to him, almost a simple matter of fact. "I'm am the greatest" and "I'm number one, no matter what" were a couple of his many quotable moments following his 200-meter win Thursday night. He became the first person to ever sweep both the 100- and 200-meters in two Olympics.

Bolt was looking to cement his "legend status" in London and he certainly did that. When the 26-year-old Jamaican calmly talks about how great he is, the way Muhammad Ali used to, it's very tough to argue with him. He's the world's fastest man (a title alone that carries a ton of weight) and has done many things no one thought possible on a track.

Greatest Olympian ever? Greatest athlete ever?

The debate last week featured Michael Phelps being the greatest Olympian ever. It can't be argued he's the most decorated with 18 gold medals and 22 overall. How do you compare Bolt and Phelps, track and swimming? You can't, just like you can't compare Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan.

Bolt is the greatest sprinter ever and Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever. That's about all you can do. And both have been active over the last eight (or more) years, which makes the real winners the Olympic-watching world.

Some may put Bolt into the greatest athlete category but Phelps wouldn't be. He could easily be in the greatest Olympian category, but so could Bolt.

Maybe you want to include decathlon gold medalist and world-record holder Ashton Eaton into the discussion of "greatest athlete alive." Track snobs will tell you that's the title earned by winning the 10-event competition.

No doubt it's impressive but "greatest athlete?" Not so fast.

I'm sure I'm just an "ugly American" with no culture or respect for the Olympic games, but the "greatest athlete" at the Olympics and in the world is ..... LeBron James.

Of course James isn't in the greatest Olympian debate, but can you really tell me there's anyone in the world who's a better overall "athlete" than him right now?

Sure, Eaton can throw the shot, run a mile, do the hurdles and long jump, but can he hit a three? Bolt runs so fast you can't see him but can he throw a behind-the-back, no-look pass on a dime while doing it? I'm not convinced LeBron wouldn't win the decathlon if he entered it. Maybe he should have, for kicks.

Again, everything's up for debate. Wherever you stand on the greatness of Phelps, Bolt and anyone else, it was a joy watching them in action again. There won't be another chance to watch Phelps (or so he says), and probably only one more Olympics with Bolt, but there will be more great athletes to be in awe of in Rio, four years down the road.

Luckily, once the Olympics are over, I can watch LeBron do what he does 82 more times this season, starting in November.

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Zach Jevne
Real Sports Talk
Zach joined the Daily Reporter staff as sports editor in March 2011. He is originally from Decorah, Iowa. He played baseball at University of Northern Iowa and studied multimedia journalism at Simpson College.