The debate seems to only have 2 guys in the running right now, but let’s face it you could probably have at least 10-15 humans in consideration for this distinction.
However, right now lets focus on the Michael Phelps vs. Usain Bolt argument.
Phelps has more medals and gold medals than anyone in history and frankly it’s not even close. 28 total medals and 23 golds. That is an insane amount of medals and no other person in history has more than 9 gold medals (Bolt).
I know that Phelps has the opportunity to win more medals, but he also has to swim a multitude of swimming disciplines, all of which take a special focus and a completely new training style.
Bolt easily is the more charismatic of the two and clearly outdistances Phelps in worldwide notoriety. Mostly because his sport is more suited for the primetime lights of major television broadcasting. The excitement surrounding a less than 10 second race is mind boggling and makes for a great experience that swimming just can’t seem to match.
The other thing that Bolt has going for him is that he is not an American. Coming from Jamaica makes Bolt more relatable to non-Americans. That relatability is harder for Phelps who also competes in a predominantly white sport.
Let’s keep race and sport out of this though. It’s impossible to say that winning more gold medals and medals in general would not make you the best Olympic Athlete of all time and I am going to make no such outlandish claim. Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete of all time and I’m sure Usain Bolt would love to race him sometime to prove that…. Just not in the pool.