I'm not writing this to take anything away from Micheal Phelps, who certainly had an unbelievable Olympics. 8 Gold with 7 world records is going to be a record I expect to stand for quite a long time. Mark Spitz's record of 7 gold and 7 world records held up for 36 years. However I do think you have to look at more than just total medal count. Here are some people I think deserve to be counted in discussions of great Olympians.
Carl Lewis - Won 4 consecutive long jump gold medals. Lewis was also unusual for being a gold medal sprinter as well. It is unusual for an athlete to be world class in both a track and a field event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Lewis
Jesse Owens - Carl Lewis duplicated Jesse Owens accomplishment in the 1936 Olympics, Gold in 100m, 200m, Long Jump, and 4x100m relay. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens
Al Oerter - Other than Carl Lewis, he is the only person to ever win 4 gold medals in consecutive Olympics. Al overcame severe injuries in a car wreck (life-threatening according to wikipedia) before his second Gold, and set a world record with torn cartilage in his ribs before his third Gold. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Oerter
Johan Olaf Kass - While he won medals in the 1992 Olympics shortly after having surgery, he is most famous for the Lillehammer games in '94. He won gold in the 1500m, 5000m, and 10,000m speed skating events setting world records in each event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Olav_Koss
As you may have guessed, I've been watching a lot of the Olympics. When one of my nieces pointed out that I had been watching Olympics all day, I responded that I would keep watching all night. She didn't like that answer.
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