Michael Phelps shouldn't be labelled 'The Greatest Olympian' but that's no criticism of him

Michael Phelps is incredibly likable for an elite athlete, he doesn't seem like a machine and has a humanness to him. He can be seen like a big excitable lump who was born to swim but he's got personality too and doesn't hide his emotions. As elite Olympians go, he's probably one of my favourites. I find it easier to like Phelps than Steven Redgrave for example, it's just a personal choice. 

He's got in trouble too, pictured by the News of the World inhaling from a bong. Rather than detract from any legacy it just serves to make him appear more real which increases the chances of feeling a connection with him and wanting him to do well. 

However the clamour to thrust the title of Greatest Olympian on him has sat uneasy, not because he isn't a great Olympian, that goes without saying, but because it just seems something which can't and perhaps shouldn't be calculated on behalf of spectators. 

We're told that Phelps is the greatest because he's won more medals than anyone else and that this is somehow conclusive proof. But when that simply isn't possible for other athletes then a comparison isn't really fair, it would only be possible for competitors in certain events to get anywhere near the title.

A marathon runner or a sprinter wouldn't be able to come close. Someone could win a medal at 100m, 200m, relay and long jump for four successive Olympics and still they would be behind Michael Phelps. A distance runner could win gold in 5000m, 10,000m and marathon - an inconceivable mix of events - for six successive Olympics (a period spanning 24 years) and would still be behind Phelps.

This isn't a criticism of the American swimmer, he's beyond that, but people are so eager to throw labels on him when his achievements speak for themselves. Somebody cannot prove they are the Greatest Olympian because it's subjective, people will label certain triumphs greater than others and bring in other factors which truly raise athletes to another level.

Jesse Owens is a particular favourite for some and like many others there are good arguments put forward for him. There's an interesting debate to be had but when other competitors would find it impossible, because of their sport, to get to that level of medals then it's not something which can be used to prove someone is the Greatest Olympian.

These days everything has to be the best ever, the greatest, or some other conclusive title to make something seem as important as we all know it is anyway. Let's just continue to enjoy Michael Phelps in his third and final Olympics and not thrust conclusive labels on him which are purely subjective anyway.

From Annie Eaves, follow her on Twitter @AnnieEaves

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