The best ever.

Was it Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier? How about Rocky Marciano?

Is it Babe Ruth or Willie Mays? Maybe it was Ted Williams or — gasp — Barry Bonds.

No matter the sport, people will always spout off with their opinion and a debate will ensue. But, when it comes to the Olympics, there is no more debate.

Not anymore.

The answer is Michael Phelps.

He is the greatest Olympian of all time.

No one else in the history of sports has dominated his individual sport like Phelps — not even Michael Jordan.

Phelps' finale Saturday was a coronation as he headed into retirement the only way imaginable — with another gold medal.

Phelps won his 18th gold medal and 22nd medal overall in the 400-meter medley, capping what has been an unprecedented career that will never be matched.

Phelps retires with twice as many gold medals as any other Olympian, and his total of 22 medals is the highest ever, breaking the previous mark of Larisa Latynina, a Russian gymnast who compiled 18 in the 1950s and '60s. Carl Lewis, perhaps the greatest track and field star of all time, only won 10. Three women swimmers have won 12 medals (Dara Torres, Natalie Coughlin and Jenny Thompson).

Before Phelps, no one had ever won more than nine gold medals.

He nearly won that many in a single Olympic Games with eight in Beijing and doubled that total for his career.

Phelps' biggest competitor this year, Ryan Lochte, won five medals in London and tied Mark Spitz for second place in the record book for men's swimming with 11 total medals.

But, Phelps reduced Lochte to an afterthought in two straight Olympic Games.

Bouncing back from a disappointing first race in London, a fourth-place finish in the 400 individual medley, Phelps wound up with four golds and two silvers medals in London.

Lochte finished with two golds, two silvers and a bronze and was once again relegated to being the second best swimmer in the world.

But, in some ways, the performance Phelps failed to live up to was his gaudy standards.

Somehow winning a pair of silver medals in London seemed beneath him, like a silver medal is worth nothing more than a prize out of a Cracker Jack box.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Phelps won eight gold medals, capping one of the most remarkable performances of all time in the same race that he went out on top on in London, winning the 400-meter medley relay. That gold broke Spitz's record of seven gold medals won in a single Olympic Games which had stood since 1972.

After Beijing, somecould have argued that Spitz was still better, though. He had won 11 overall Olympic Medals. Phelps was at 16.

It was at least close enough to argue.

It was a different era. The world was a different place.

There were no high-tech body suits, like Phelps wore in Beijing.

But now that Phelps has laid claim to 18 gold medals and 22 overall, the argument is over.

Beijing was Phelps' gold standard.

But, London cemented his legacy as the best of all time.

Contact Nick Talbot at or (254) 501-7569

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