For the last couple of Olympics, it has started to bug me that so many medals are handed out in swimming. People are falling over themselves to declare Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian ever, greatest athlete in the world, etc.... I just don't buy it. Swimming medals are the most watered-down handed out at the Games, and his eight, in my mind, don't equal the four that Jesse Owens won in 1936 or that Carl Lewis won in 1984.
Imagine if in track & field they handed out a medal in the 100m for running, running backward, hopping and skipping. That's essentially what happens in swimming.
Instead of giving out a medal for simply the fastest person to go the 100m, they give one for each of four different strokes; and at the 200m distance, they give out five medals (one for individual medley). That's bullshit. Of Phelps' eight golds, only three are from freestyle, and two are from the medley.
Plus, with so many different strokes, it waters down the talent pool even more, with some athletes gravitating toward breastroke, others to backstroke, etc.... Whereas Owens and Lewis both won the crown "fastest man alive" with their sprinting success, Phelps can't claim that, as he doesn't even race the 50m or 100m distances. Phelps never even had to race against France's Alain Bernard (except in a relay).
Can you imagine if basketball followed the swimming model of handing out medals? You'd have a gold medal three-point-shooting contest; a gold-medal slam-dunk contest. Maybe every sport should start handing out medals like this; right now the Olympics give out about 302 medals; why not make it 1,000? Incidently, of those 302 medals, swimming gives out 96: Almost a third!
The way it should be is easy: Get from point A to point B as fast as you can. None of this backstroke and breaststroke nonsense. Let's see Phelps win eight medals the same way a sprinter or any other Olympic athlete would have to. Then we can talk about Greatest Olympian ever.