Bolt v Phelps: who is the greatest?

SPEED MACHINE: Jamaica's Usain Bolt in his trademark pose after winning the 100m at the 2012 Olympics.
SPEED MACHINE: Jamaica's Usain Bolt in his trademark pose after winning the 100m at the 2012 Olympics. JOHN G.MABANGLO

IF SIZE truly did matter, US swimmer Michael Phelps would just have to walk through the gates of the Rio athletes' village to be considered the greatest competitor at these Olympics.

No one can get near the size of his Olympic haul - 22 medals - and that's before he dives into the pool for his first race of his fifth Olympiad.

But the question we're considering isn't who has the most medals, but who is the greatest athlete competing at these Games.

And on that score, Phelps finds himself up against a formidable foe, the human headline that is track sprint champion Usain Bolt.


Who is the greatest athlete in Rio: Bolt, Phelps or someone else?

This poll ended on 07 August 2016.

Current Results

Usain Bolt


Michael Phelps


Other - have your say in the comments below


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.


Let's clear a couple of things up first.

Comparing the two serves one purpose - it's a bit of fun. You're comparing an egg to an orange. There's very little similarity, except they're great athletes.

It's not as simple as asking who's the best at one sport, like tennis, where Swiss master Roger Federer is the best player the world has seen. He's won the most grand slams, and won them on all surfaces. Pete Sampras, second on the list, couldn't win on clay, so can't compete on two key stats.

But a swimmer versus a sprinter?

Thank goodness for fantasy football, where millions of sports enthusiasts draw up illogical sporting fixtures every day.

So what should we consider on this one?


Bolt, a laid-back Jamaican who seems a cliche of the world view of his countrymen, won the sprint track treble in Beijing (the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay) in world record times. He defended the three titles four years later in London. That made him the first man to sweep the three events in consecutive Games. A repeat in Rio would be a threepeat beyond compare. He would undoubtedly be the best Games athlete in history.

But he's not there yet.


WATER WIZARD: American Michael Phelps has won 22 Olympic medals.
WATER WIZARD: American Michael Phelps has won 22 Olympic medals. Wong Maye-E

We're talking about greatness today, ahead of the Rio Games opening ceremony tomorrow morning.

And Phelps goes more than okay in the pool. His versatility is legend.

He's averaged more than seven medals in each of the last three Summer Games.

Five golds and one silver have been won in butterfly events, including three 100m butterfly titles. He also has five golds in individual medley events, three in the 200m IM. He has a gold in freestyle and nine medals in relays (seven golds).

So both are record setters.

Greatness, though, should also be judged on actions outside the pool or off the track.

In their personal lives, there is only one winner.

Bolt does better with the ladies and better with the police.

His biggest run-in with the boys in blue has been them asking him to stop giving away money to his fellow countrymen, because it was causing fights.

That's a better effort than the American, who has two drink-driving convictions, using the last in 2014 to attempt to get his life back on the rails by aiming for Rio. He's also been caught out smoking marijuana and apologised when a British tabloid printed the evidence.

Phelps perhaps thus doesn't meet the Olympic ideal as well as Bolt, though he once sat out a relay final at the Games to give his spot to another swimmer who he thought might have beaten him at the US Olympic trials if not for an illness. (That relay team won gold in a world record time.)

The sponsors clearly have a view on greatness too. Bolt is plastered over every billboard proclaiming the Games; he's on Australian TV advertising a telco.

He's who I'd be if I had the chance to morph into one of them.

He's the fastest man in the world. Of all-time. For that, and the way he's done it, Bolt starts these Olympics my greatest current Olympian.

I wouldn't go toe-to-toe with anyone arguing for Phelps, though I would point out he only has to swim another 100m to boost his medal tally.

There's only one set of events I'll program for record in my house before the start of the Olympics - Bolt's sprint finals.

Bryce Johns is the editorial director of Australian Regional Media.


Topics:  editors picks michael phelps rio2016 usain bolt

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Ipswich man in court over 'childish' egging comments

Using cracked or dirty eggs can lead to salmonellosis food poisoning.

He was accused of egging a house on social media

OP1 graduate ecstatic with score

Clarissa Adamovics received an OP1 after graduating from Redbank Plains State High School in 2017.

Clarissa Adamovics happy to study nursing at UQ.

Regional residents join refugee fight

Hundreds of people from Tweed, Lismore, Toowoomba, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Ipswich will travel to Brisbane for a refugee and asylum seeker forum hosted by the ASRC, Amnesty International, Oxfam Australia and Mums 4 Refugees.

'People are really troubled by the harsh way that we treat refugees'

Local Partners