Who is the greatest athlete in the world

The greatest athlete of all time

Beijing - Michael Phelps stood in front of the cameras so bored, as if his parents had gently urged him to stop by Grandma again. "I'm speechless," he said. And after a pause: "That's a pretty great title: greatest Olympian of all time."

But what at that moment was an appropriate reaction to the historic feat at the Aquatic Center in Beijing, with which Phelps (23) had trumped athletes Paavo Nurmi and Carl Lewis, gymnast Larissa Latynina and swimmer Mark Spitz? The heroes of bygone days had each received nine Olympic gold medals in their athletic lives.

Michael Phelps is someone who lights a fire when he performs. Your own emotions, on the other hand, are on the back burner. So yesterday the boy bagged gold number ten and eleven - and what is he doing? Smiles shyly. Apparently not realizing what he's done.

He didn't have much time for reflection anyway. 54 minutes after his operation over the 100 meter butterfly, he was again challenged as a gold digger in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay and was not stopped by a flooded swimming goggle. The US team undercut the seven-minute mark with starting swimmer Phelps for the first time. "We're only one piece in Michael's puzzle," said season colleague Ricky Berens. "He is different in every respect, maybe he comes from another planet", threatened the Russian Alexander Sukhorukov from the season of silver medalists.

In fact, Phelps sometimes seems awkward on land. He laboriously dug his cell phone out of his pocket in order to read out one of the 80 congratulatory SMS messages that he receives every day. So cumbersome that the zealous Chinese head of the press conference, amid the laughter of journalists, warned that Question Time would only last a minute.

No, Aquarius spreads grace only in the wet element. "It's so nice to watch how he swims," ​​enthuses Germany's sporting icon Franziska van Almsick. He easily overshadows the great Australian Olympic champion Ian Thorpe. "Everyone thought he was the big fish in the water, but Michael is the real perfection," she says.

The versatility at the top level makes Phelps a shining light. He started with butterfly, then conquered the freestyle disciplines and rounded off his portfolio with chest and back, which also made him a layer specialist. It would be as if tennis star Roger Federer were equally strong on grass and clay courts, as if 100-meter world record holder Usain Bolt could also master the 800 meters in athletics. Then there is his mental strength. "I've never seen him fail in a big competition," says team-mate Ryan Lochte.

In the modern times of high-performance sport, despite all the euphoria, skepticism is appropriate: How can all this be done with the right things, especially in swimming, where over 50 world records were set before the Olympic Games, swimmers like the French Alain Bernard have back muscles the size of biceps and one how the Chinese back specialist Ouyang Kunpeng was banned for life because he tested positive for the steroid Clenbuterol.

There are reasons to hope that Phelps is clean. He has not made any suspicious leaps in performance in his career. At 15 he was as fast as at 23. He's not a powerhouse outside of the pool. The US Swimming Association's physiotherapists only smile when Phelps bench presses or does the leg press. There he is one of the weakest. It would be different with anabolic steroids.

The mystery of his ability remains his "amazing ability to regenerate", as Michael Gross, Germany's three-time Olympic champion, notes. He starts 18 times in Beijing to win gold eight times, on Saturday his greatest challenge awaits when it comes to his compatriot Ian Crocker on his special route for the title over 100 meters butterfly. Phelps knows about the distrust. He says: "My greatest achievement in the past four years has been learning to conserve my energy." Whatever that means.

He probably only reached his peak performance in 2012, at the games in London. "He has the chance to get 25 Olympic gold medals," predicts the four-time Olympic champion Lenny Krayzelburg. "In every era, in every area of ​​life, there is a phenomenon, an absolute genius. Michael is our Einstein."