Before I begin, my analysis, Usain Bolt is great for the sport of track and field. He’s fun, charismatic and is charming on and off the track. In addition, he’s contributed millions to various sports facilities and schools in his native Jamaica. I think he’s great for the sport and Jamaica is blessed to have someone who represents his country so well.
During an Olympics 2016 special on the Pardon the Interruption (PTI) podcast, Mike Wilbon (Chicago Mike) said Bolt is a better athlete than Michael Phelps. I waited a second to digest what Chicago Mike had just said. Did he say better athlete? First thought, Mr. Bolt is a sprinter, that’s all he does. Does Usain compete at long distance events? Steeple chase? Hurdles? How many gold medals? How many Olympics? If Bolt had done the 1500, 100 and 200 during 4 Olympiad, I’d come back to the microphone to talk.
Look, Bolt is amazing and is an amazing showman. He’s unbelievable to watch. Observers on the track say it’s nothing short of amazing how fast these sprinters run. Nevertheless, to suggest he’s a better athlete? In my mind, part of being a great athlete is how much time one spends training, even if someone is gifted to dunk a basketball, fly down a 100 meter track or has the propensity to swim like a dolphin.
How many hours did Bolt train prior to the Olympics? I would be interested in knowing. If it’s 6 hours a day, does that include consistent running, sprinting, stretching and weight training or is there time for play and showmanship? Compare that to Phelps, who over the course of his swimming career, spent 6-8 hours training per day, much of that in a chlorinated pool just putting in the necessary miles. Of course, Mike has the physical attributes to do amazing things in the pool but he had to perfect his craft — could not the same be said of Bolt? Usain is just flat-out gifted when it comes to speed — typically between 70 and 200 yards. I say that because of his height, it takes him about 60-70 meters to get to top speed. If Bolt is such a great athlete as said by Chicago Mike, why not run the 400 too and while he’s at it, try either the 800 or 1500? Would he have the bandwidth to train for the 400 or long jump?
Needless to say, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals and 23 were gold. Over the course of 4 Olympics, Michael Phelps did sprints, longer distances and relays. He swam the 200 and 400 medley in several Olympics, which comprises of 4 different swimming styles: breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly stroke and freestyle. The fact that Michael not only competed leveraging these 4 strokes but won many of his events helps to confirm the kind of athlete he was in the water. One more thing about Mr. Phelps, he won 5 gold medals and one silver at the age of 31. He’s 2 years older than Usain Bolt who has won a total of 9 medals.
One more thing about the best athlete, if you take Mr. Phelps out of the equation for whatever reason, there’s one other swimmer who many would consider a phenom — Katie Ledecky. Her focus is not on the different swimming styles; however, she excels in freestyle regardless of what length you put her in.
In Rio, she swam the 200, 400, and 800 and participated in the 4 by 100 and 4 by 200 relay. As a result, she captured 4 gold medals and one silver in the 4 by 100 relay. She set two world records in Rio — I don’t think Usain Bolt set any world records there. In addition, her signature event is the 1500, which was not part of the Summer Olympics. At the 2015 World Championships, she set a world record in the 1500-meter freestyle. If they had this event at Rio, arguably she could have won the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle. Similar to a runner who wins gold in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500. I love the sprinter from Jamaica, and again, he’s arguably the greatest sprinter of all time. However, it’s typically between 70 and 200 meters.
So Bolt says, “What else do I need to do to be considered the greatest?” Well, if you are talking about the greatest runner of all time, you’ll probably get some debate. If you’re talking about the greatest Olympic athlete of all time, again they’ll be debate. However, if you’re talking about one of the greatest sprinters of all time, I’m in agreement. Phenomenal athlete with so much charisma he can light up a track and field stadium. So, let’s keep it at that, perhaps the greatest sprinter of all time.