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The greatest of all time?

A GRIP ON SPORTS

The Olympics are dominating the world's sporting consciousness – as they should – even though the main element of the Games, track and field, has just gotten underway. During the first week new faces in gymnastics, cycling and swimming commandeered  the world stage, though there is one familiar fellow we want to talk about. Read on.


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• Before we get to the main subject of today's column, I want to pass along the news Spokane shooter Amanda Furrer, who I had the opportunity to meet prior to the Olympics, didn't make the final of the 50 meter rifle Saturday morning. The Mead High graduate finished 15th in qualifying with a score of 581, a couple of points out of the final. However, teammate Jamie Lynn Gray won the event with an Olympic record. Another Spokane resident, Eric Uptagrafft, also just missed out in his shooting event. … Now back to the point I wanted to make today. Greg Doyel of CBSSports.com had this column yesterday, the main point of which was, despite his success in the pool, Michael Phelps wasn't the greatest Olympian of all time. Far be it for me to argue with a someone who has reached the pinnacle of success in their field (writing for CBSSports.com is the dream of every aspiring young sports journalist around the world), but I have to say I'm not sure I agree with the esteemed Mr. Doyel. Before we get into the whys and wherefores, let me just say the idea of “greatest” is subjective, so coming up with a definitive answer is impossible (though a poll of your opinions is quantifiable, so vote on the poll I posted this morning). The criteria one uses to determine “greatest” can vary, so an argument can be made for Jesse Owens, as Doyel does, or Paavo Nurmi or Emil Zatopek (above) or Larisa Latynina or Birgit Fischer or anyone else you can think of. So let's agree there is no right answer, OK? But there are a couple of good arguments for Phelps' coronation as the greatest of all time, starting with, of course, his 21 total medals, more than anyone else in history (with one relay to go today). Seventeen of those medals are gold, almost double the number of golds won by those tied for second on the list (Nurmi, Latynina, Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis). Yes, as a swimmer, Phelps has the opportunity for more medals than most, but every swimmer has that opportunity. He's the only one who has seized it.

• The numbers speak to another aspect of Phelps' greatness that sets him apart: Longevity. A lot of folks have competed in multiple Olympics (heck, equestrian Ian Miller of Canada has been in 10, including this year's) but none have been as successful over the long haul as Phelps. He won as a teenager in Athens. He won as a young adult in Bejing. And he won as a relatively (for swimming) old man this year in London. People he raced against in Athens have become bankers, lawyers and doctors. Now he's racing against another generation and still winning. And isn't that what you want to do at the Olympics? Win? Sure, the experience is incredible and just competing is the highlight of a lifetime for most of those participating, but the goal of most Olympians is to win that gold medal, to stand on the podium and hear your national anthem played. Michael Phelps has done that more than anyone. And for my money he's, pound-for-pound and sport-for-sport, the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. … Unless it is Hiroshi Hoketsu.

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• Washington State: Christian Caple was at day two of the Mike Leach era and filed his usual report, which includes a blog post from after practice, a story for this morning's S-R and a early morning blog post with links. He's as dependable as Michael Phelps. (Does that make him the greatest Cougar beat writer of all time? I think not.) … It is Saturday and no one can keep me from my appointed rounds, delivering Ted Miller's mailbag on ESPN.com. It is what keeps me alive these days.

• Gonzaga: Mark Few is featured in this Seth Davis column on SI.com.

• Idaho: The Vandals added former Eastern Washington head coach Kirk Earlywine to their basketball coaching staff. Josh Wright has a story and a blog post.

• Indians: Spokane rallied for a 6-5 victory Friday night, opening a homestand against Boise. Jess Brown was at Avista Stadium and filed this story.

• Shock: The ArenaBowl is next week, so the Arizona Rattlers are making sure they concentrate on this week's opponent – the Utah Blaze ­– in the National Conference final.

• Mariners: No matter how hot the M's are, the Yankees' CC Sabathia (right, with catcher Russell Martin) can cool them down. He did it again Friday in New York's 6-3 win, snapping the Mariners' seven-game winning streak. The left-hander gave up just three hits and struck out 10. … The trip to New York means a reunion with former teammate Ichiro, though I'm not sure many of the M's ran over to say hi. Ichiro is gushing about how good the New York fans are to him and the media is returning the accolades, praising Ichiro's willingness to talk. OK. … Just for the fun of it, the M's should claim Cliff Lee.

• Seahawks: The Cortez Kennedy coronation continues, as does the Hawks' preseason training camp. The latter is pretty quiet, with the offensive line starting to build continuity.

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• There is little better than a summer weekend, so enjoy yours. I know I will enjoy mine. Until later …


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Jim Allen Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jacob Thorpe Sports reporter Jacob Thorpe covers Washington State University athletics. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jim Meehan Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Josh Wright Josh Wright is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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