Sports opinion: Michael Phelps is the most iconic Olympic athlete



(EMILY WALOS/ Ethic Media)

With 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold,  Michael Phelps is known throughout the world as the fastest swimmer who has ever lived and is one of the most iconic Olympians of all time.

For many young swimmers, athletes like Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin,  Ian Thorpe, and Mark Spitz are household names. However, all other athletes and individuals automatically think of Michael Phelps when the sport of swimming is mentioned.

Phelps became a worldwide household name and one of the most iconic Olympians through his natural ability to cut through the water at amazing speeds. This has made him a 28-time Olympic medalist with 23 golds, 3 silvers and 2 bronzes. With both amazing talent and coaching, Phelps has come to be an icon in the eyes of not only Americans but in the eyes of the world as well.

“‘Not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, but he’s also maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet,’ said Mark Spitz, who held the record for most medals at a single Olympics event for 36 years, till it was smashed by Phelps in 2008,” a Partha Arora article stated.

In 2000, Phelps came into the spotlight as he was the youngest person to be in the Olympics at only 15 years old. He did not receive a medal in the Sydney games of 2000, coming in 5th in his only event: the 200 butterfly.  However, according to,“ as a spectator at the event, he gained another source of inspiration from observing the races of a bodysuit-clad freestyle legend, Australian Ian Thorpe.”

Phelps then continued to train and worked to go to the 2001 Nationals and  International Swimming Federation World Championships, where he made history for a second time at the trials by breaking his first world record in his famous 200 Fly. He then went to the World Championships and broke his own record.

From 2002-2007 Phelps continued to break records and win Olympic medals in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and FINA World Championships. In the 2008 games in Beijing High, Phelps showed why he is an absolute force to be reckoned with in the world of swimming. At the games, he dominated, medaling in eight events, which he had also done in 2004 games.  He was the second person in history to do this next to Aleksandr Dityatin. The eight medals Phelps won from this Olympics now meant that he had a total 18 Olympic medals.

At the 2009 FINA World Championships, Phelps was beaten for the first time in a four year streak by Paul Biedermann, a newcomer from Germany. This created so much controversy that the race was carefully analyzed by officials. It was finally determined that the tech suit that Biederman wore was the reason for his win. According to Swimswam Bio, from that point on “ textile suits were banned by FINA.”  As stated by, a tech suit is defined as a swimsuit that “has bonded seams, Kinetic Tape, or Meshed Seams,” which allow for the suit to create as little drag in the water as possible. The tech suit Biedermann used was the “Arena X-Glide, one of the polyurethane suits that turn the swimmers’ bodies into sleek kayaks,” stated Karen Crouse in her article “Phelps Loses, and a Debate Boils Over.”

 This man’s speed was so unquestionable that when someone beat him that race was thoroughly analyzed, and they concluded that it was because of a swimsuit.  As a result, a whole type of style of suit was banned from competitions. This shows the level of power, influence, and regard that was given to Phelps at that time.

Phelps continued to make waves in the swimming world for the next four years, which led to him finally achieving his goal of being the most decorated Olympian of all time at the 2012 London games. At these games, he also claimed the title of oldest individual gold medalist in Olympic swimming history at the age of 28.

During his career, he had planned on not swimming past the age of 30.  Phelps then went into retirement without entering into the spotlight at all. However, on April 24th, 2014 at a Prix in Mesa, AZ, Phelps came out of retirement.

On Aug. 20, 2016, Phelps made history once again by being the first swimmer to win individual gold in the Olympics 12 years apart. This swimming event, the 200-meter Butterfly, additionally allowed him to gain media attention by becoming the oldest man in swimming history to win a gold medal at the age of 31.  In addition, he broke the record for the 200 butterfly that was set by Duke Kahanamoku, a professional surfer from Hawaii in 1920, making the swimming record 96 years old.

Phelps’s last Olympic race on August 13 during the 2016 Rio games was the 4x100m medley. In the relay, Phelps swam his iconic stroke of Butterfly being the third of the four to leave the blocks. His contribution was critical as the USA team came in first, meaning Phelps had just finished his swimming career with 23 gold medals and 28 medals overall.

“Being able to close the door on this sport how I wanted to – that’s why I’m happy now,” Phelps said after-acquired his sixth-medal win in Rio. “I was a little kid with a dream, which turned into a couple of medals. Just being able to finish this way is special because now I’m able to start the next chapter in my life.”

Michael Phelps’ net worth is estimated to be around $55 million, making him one of the richest athletes to have attended at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Gold medals and lucrative endorsements helped build his wealth. Michael Phelps fanbase is in the millions, with over 3.3 million followers on Instagram, 2.2 million on Twitter and 8.2 million on Facebook.

Although Phelps swimming career had come to an end, he did not just stop there, he continued with his other athletic passion that he discovered in 2012, golf. According to Phelps is also thought to hold the record of the longest putt ever to be televised, meaning not only is he the fastest swimmer that has ever lived, but that he will now continue to take the athletic world by storm.

Phelps has and currently is working with many different charities to help with water conservation and the importance of water safety.  According to, with the 1 million dollar bonus Phelps received for winning his 8th gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games he started a nonprofit organization called The Michael Phelps Foundation which was dedicated to helping promote, healthy and active lives and expand the sport of swimming. “The Foundation in partnership with KidsHealth and the Michael Phelps Swim School has developed and launched the IM program which has reached over 15,000 Boys & Girls Club members and Special Olympics athletes with life-saving programming. They have also established the Level Field Fund-Swimming, a grant-giving  program that provides funding to uniquely talented swimmers in need of financial assistance, and offers autographed swim caps for charity auctions through Caps-for-a-Cause.” He has also contributed to BID 2 BEAT AIDS, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, ONE DROP, Robert F Kennedy Memorial, Colgate, and One-Ten giving program.

By 2018, Michael Phelps has collected 34 world championship medals (27 gold) in swimming, 28 Olympic medals (23 gold), set 39 world records, countless Olympic records, had the titles of the most decorated Olympian of all time, fastest swimmer that has ever lived, youngest swimmer to go to the Olympics, a record holder in golf, and the face of many charities. A boy that was once afraid of putting his face in the water, and barely being able to concentrate his busy mind (Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD as a child) to focus on one thing is now the most decorated Olympian known to man and considered to be the greatest swimmer of all time that is what made Michael Phelps the most iconic Olympic athlete.

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Phelps pointing to the times following the race at the Rio 2016 Olympics. (via


Categories: Sports

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