Don’t Tell Me How Much Better Better Michael Phelps Is At Swimming, Give Me the “Why!”


“Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer to ever live!”

No argument here.

“Michael Phelps it the greatest OLYMPIAN ever!”

Well… depends on how you define “Olympian.” Is he someone who embodies the so-called “Olympic Ideals” and exudes unimpeachable character? No. Not hardly. I’d be willing to write off the FIRST DUI and the weed smoking picture… but the SECOND DUI pushes him over into a different category.

But he’s sorted out his life a bit, and people seem to like him. Bully for him. He doesn’t particularly move or excite me as an athlete the way that Usain Bolt does. But to each his own.

Phelps has certainly put the individual Gold Medal/Total Medals record so high on a peg now, that it’s hard to believe anyone else will eclipse them in my lifetime. But we’ll see. World records seem to just keep on falling every time I watch Olympic swimming – which, is almost precisely every 4 years. On the button.

I have found the media cheerleading for Phelps a bit off-putting. I am not sure that if he were German, there would be an equal amount of hype. He’s ours, so we are him….. I suppose. Or that’s the thinking. As if we on the couch, are entitled to any of the glory he’s forged for himself through relentless training and God-given talents.

I’ve read seemingly endless attempts on Twitter to somehow further “wow” us about how dominant/awesome/one-in-a-million Phelps is. Things like how many entire nations don’t have as many medals as he does. Or how his golds alone would be taller than him if stacked edge-on-edge.

Okay, whatever.

What I am actually curious about is this: WHAT MAKES HIM SO DAMN GOOD!!

I searched and found this article, but it left me quite unsatisfied. Every premise of his anatomical advantages was left with a “yeah, maybe… but probably not.”

So leave it to a listener who knows swimming well… to give me a well-constructed – and most importantly, a flawlessly edited and ready for re-publication! – explanation.

Here goes…

Lastly, while I am not swept up into the Phelps hype, I can say that the Under Armor ad he’s in is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece. The concept, the visuals, the lighting…. amazing. Whatever agency produced THAT thing….. GOLD MEDAL!

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Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at


  1. Your swimming expert writer needs to put the kool aid down before he chokes.
    Obviously he’s the greatest swimmer of all time. The greatest athlete ever ?,,, Puh-lease!
    Because he can swim faster than any one ever doesn’t make home the greatest athlete ever. Was Eric Heiden the greatest athlete ever then?
    Can Phelps take a pick 6 back 80 yards? Could he play in the NFL pro bowl and MLB all star game the same year? Can he hit a baseball 400 feet, or run Brian Bosworth over? Can he run a sub 4.4 40?
    Would he be able to guide a NBA team to multiple titles? Highly unlikely on all fronts.
    Greatest swimmer,,, sure.
    Greatest athlete,,,, negative.

    • Czabe, didn’t know you were on Yahoo Sports Radio … as your about the author notes.

      Isn’t the simplest answer generally the correct one? I’m going with PEDs. I’ve seen this story before with Lance.

    • I’m not saying Phelps IS the greatest athlete ever, but I can’t agree with your logic either, Tick Tock.
      Phelps may not be able to do the things you mentioned, but Dieon Sanders never broke any world records in numerous olympic events either. Or blew the field away in the finals of one event, only to return and ANCHOR a team event a half hour later and win both.
      It’s all relative.
      What Bo Jackson could do on a field was nothing short of amazing. (War Eagle) But I believe what Phelps has been able to do over a 16 year period in the pool is just as amazing.
      I have no problem with anyone who wants to call Jordan, Bo, Deion, Ali, or even Babe Ruth the greatest athlete of all time. Everyone judges differently. BUT …. I can’t argue with anyone who says it’s Phelps either.
      I can tell you this. Like the Czabster, I only watch competitive swimming when the summer olympics roll around. That being said, Phelps in the pool has been more “must see TV” for me than Jordan, Deion, or anyone else has ever been.

    • Tick Tock
      With all due respect, I think you need to put Phelps’ accomplishments in perspective…Greatest swimmer of all time-no doubt! greatest athlete of all time? I would say yes – at least with a good argument. Phelps has been at the top of the swimming world, setting records, winning golds, for TWENTY YEARS!! Can you imagine the work it takes to grind that out? to stay at that level for that long…
      Can your NFL player take a pick 6 back 80 yards for TWENTY YEARS?
      Did Eric Heiden own Speed Skating for TWENTY YEARS?
      Did Bo play in the Pro Bowl and MLB All Star Game for TWENTY YEARS?
      Could he (Bo) run over the Boz or hit a baseball 400 feet every year for TWENTY YEARS?
      Think about it…you are seeing an athletic accomplishment that will probably never be equaled…Give the man his props….

    • It simply depends on what criteria you use to measure athletes across sports. It is indeed a monumental–if not impossible–task to compare athletes in different sports. The point is that what Phelps has done is perhaps* greater than any single athletic feat ever before witnessed. Considering the point of my email was not to debate the hierarchy of greatest athlete of all time, but rather to shed some light on why Phelps’s accomplishments were so historically significant, I would simply say that I don’t really drink Kool-aid, and thus, I have no problem in refraining from choking on it. Nevertheless, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, including those who would disagree with my assertion that Phelps should be considered in the discussion of greatest athlete of all time.

  2. Seems the writer was saying Phelps has dominated his sport unlike any other athlete has dominated theirs. It would be the NBA equivalent of leading the league in each category at the same time: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes played.

    To Tick Tock I would say, can Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Carl Lewis or Michael Jordan even qualify for the American swim team in the Olympics – much less for a span of 12 years? Yeah the guy went a little far with the greatest athlete hyperbole, but please, a little respect for Phelps amazing athleticism, because he IS in the discussion.


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