Olympic Greatness: Phelps and Leonidas

Olympic record-breaker Michael Phelps achieved an astounding feat in the history of sport this year. If you want to bet on future events, don't forget to use the bgo voucher code. Phelps has broken Leonidas' title of being the most decorated Olympian with 13 individual gold medals in swimming, so let's take a moment to muse on the two athletes.

Leonidas of Rhodes, born in 188BCE, held the record for 12 individual titles, in running, for 2,168 years. He ran three races: stadion, diaulos, and hoplitodromos. The stadion was a 200m naked sprint, while the diaulos was roughly 400m in length and yes, there were no ornaments slowing you down. The last race, the hoplitodromos, was probably around the same length as the diaulos and the athletes were made to wear military armor such as a breastplate with a helmet, a heavy shield, and possibly greaves. Leonidas won in all three footraces for four consecutive Olympiads. He was aged 36 when he participated in his last Olympiad (Phelps was 31 in Rio).

Moreover, the next Olympic games would be named after the winner of the 200m race, so four times in history we had something like a "Leonidas Games." The Greeks had approximately 1,000 cities and each had their own reward for their winner. Leonidas was worshipped by Rhodes and was given a statue; he was revered and became a member of the pantheon of Heroes and Gods in the local community. Legend says that on his statue the words 'He had the speed of a God' were inscribed.

The Rio Olympics have been a good year for the United States on the whole, but a particular highlight has been Michael Phelps' performance. Phelps definitely caught our eye during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he secured 8 gold medals in one Olympiad. Retried Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe publicly apologized to Phelps for having doubted him to achieve a near impossible feat. That year Phelps broke Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in Munich in 1972. In Rio 2016, Phelps won five gold medals and got silver in the 100m butterfly.

He is like a fish in water, and you knew there just had to be a pun here somewhere, with a lean thin torso offering him low drag. With his size 14 feet, he practically has flippers. His wingspan of 6 feet, 7 inches (201cm) allows him to paddle through water and reach high speeds easily. Aside from Phelps' unbelievable physique, it is his willpower and determination that inspire him to greatness. When Milorad Čavić, moments before the final race in Beijing 2008, stated that "it would be nice if historians talk about Michael Phelps winning seven gold medals and losing the eighth to 'some guy.' I'd like to be that guy." Phelps kept his composure and responded by saying that "when people say things like that, it fires me up more than anything." That day Phelps beat Milorad by one hundredth of a second.

Philostratus the Athenian wrote, in his now-ancient work entitled simply Gymnastikos, that Leonidas disproved all previous theories about athletes' training and body types. The previous wisdom held that a particular body type was needed for a sprint while a more muscular build was required for the hoplitodromos (the race with the military armor). For Leonidas to have both speed and stamina was utterly stupefying for the common folk.

Much like Leonidas, we have come across another remarkable athlete that has both speed and stamina. He can quickly unleash a great burst of speed in the 100m and he can go the distance. No doubt about it, Phelps is one of the greatest athletes the Olympic Games has ever given us the privilege to see. A swimming category did not exist in Leonidas's time, but by ancient standards, Phelps should get a seat beside Poseidon himself.

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