Over the last decade, we've had the pleasure of watching two of the greatest Olympians ever to compete.
As sports fans, you have to appreciate greatness when you have a chance to see it because not everyone gets that opportunity.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to see all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre all play in their prime. I was even able to see the end of Joe Montana and Larry Bird’s careers.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see guys like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Wilt Chamberlain or Willie Mays. Those legends all dominated before I was born.
Well, we should all count ourselves lucky now in 2016, because we’ve been able to watch pure athletic greatness unfold right before our eyes.
Over the last decade, we’ve had the pleasure of watching two of the greatest Olympians ever to compete.
Michael Phelps has firmly established himself as the greatest performer the sport of swimming has ever seen. Usain Bolt has made a pretty convincing argument that he’s the new gold standard of sprinters.
Swimming isn’t exactly a sport that general fans of athletics have gravitated toward throughout the years. However, the interest level always rose when the summer Olympics came around.
Legendary performances like Mark Spitz’s seven-gold medal run in the 1972 Olympics helped spike that interest.
Still, swimming oftentimes slipped through the cracks of viewer curiosity. That was, of course, before Phelps came along.
Phelps first made his big splash in the 2004 games in Athens when he took home six gold medals, coming up just one short of tying Spitz’s 32-year record of seven—a mark many thought would never be broken.
By the time the 2008 games opened up from Beijing, all eyes were on him. There was just a feeling amongst the world that he was about to make history, and he did. Phelps surpassed Spitz with a record eight gold medals.
Eyes remained on the sport four years later when the Olympics went to London. Phelps was once again chasing history as he tried to break the record for most gold medal victories for a single Olympic athlete.
With his four-gold medal performance, he took his place at the top of the mountain with 18 overall.
At the time, most thought this would be the end for Phelps. They thought he would just decide to walk out on top, but he still wasn’t finished.
At 31 years old, Phelps commanded the spotlight again this summer for the games in Rio. He won five more gold medals to put the count at a ridiculous 23.
In attaining legendary status, Phelps has brought the type of excitement and passion the sport has never seen. Over the past few Olympics, he and his teammates have often become the talk of the event amongst Americans.
Heck, even the USA basketball players have made sure to come out and support the swim team in person.
Track and field has always been one of the highlights of the Olympics. Bolt’s dominance of the sport has only enhanced the fervor.
Over the last three Olympics, he has become arguably the greatest sprinter of all time.
Bolt had his coming out party in the 2008 games when he set new world records in both the 100 and 200. In the 100, he was so far ahead of his competitors that he was able to slow down and celebrate before the finish line.
It was reminiscent of Secretariat’s 31-length victory over the field in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Bolt’s coach said afterward that based on his opening 60-meter speed, if he had not slowed down, he would have finished with a ludicrous time of 9.52.
He won both events again in 2012—setting a new world record of 9.63 in the 100. Those two medals helped him set the record for most ever sprinting gold medal victories by a male Olympian with six.
Like Phelps, many thought that would be the end of Bolt’s dominance, but the rest of the field still hasn’t caught up to him.
At 29 years old, Bolt again won both the 100 and 200 in Rio. It made him the first athlete to ever win both events three times. Bolt is also the only man to ever hold both the 100 and 200 world records simultaneously.
After this 2016 performance, Bolt has tied Carl Lewis with nine gold medals, but only five of Lewis’ medals came from sprinting. The other four were in the long jump.
Lewis also amazingly won gold at four separate Olympics. It remains to be seen if Bolt will duplicate that feat.
But then again, what will stop he and Phelps from dominating the competition? After what they did this summer, who’s to say they can’t bring home more gold in 2020?