International Press, Michael Phelps obscures the light from Ancient Greek Leonidas form Rhodes -the greatest athlete of ancient Greece
by James Masters
Michael Phelps is used to rewriting history — now he’s eclipsing it too.
Michael Phelps beats 2,168-year-old Olympic record at Rio Games with 200m medley victory
Michael Phelps has beaten a 2,168-year-old Olympic record for individual event successes.
When the American swimmer won the Olympic 200 metres individual medley on Thursday, he overtook the record of 12 successes set by Leonidas of Rhodes in the original Greek Games in 152 BC.
Though Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in the modern era with 22 gold medals, as well as two silver and two bronze, nine of his triumphs have come as part of a relay team – a concept not present in the Games of the second century BC.
Unmatched as Phelps appears to be in the 21st century AD, Leonidas of Rhodes was himself peerless in the sprinting events across the 154th, 155th, 156th and 157th ancient Olympiads.
The Stadion and Diaulos events seem to have been roughly equivalent to today’s 200m and 400m sprint races respectively, while theHoplitodromos resembled a Diaulos but with the athletes wearing bronze armour and carrying a shield.
Leonidas won all three of those races at four consecutive Olympiads, between 164 and 152 BC.
He wasn’t completely infallible, however; what winners’ lists survive for the Dolichos race – thought to have been a three-mile slog – don’t anywhere mention Leonidas of Rhodes.
Phelps, by contrast, won the 100m butterfly in 2004, 2008 and 2012; the 200m butterfly in 2004, 2008 and 2016; the 200m medley in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016; the 400m medley in 2004 and 2008; and the 200m freestyle in 2008.
Some have questioned the worth of Leonidas’ exploits in a time before the omnipresence of sports-science laboratories, snazzy race apparel and multi-million-dollar endorsement deals – but no doubt whoever occupies planet Earth in another 2,000 years will be similarly dismissive of Phelps’ puny achievements.
That the Olympics went uncontested for the better part of these two millennia between Leonidas’ and Phelps’ victories appears not to have diminished the scale of latter’s achievement in the eyes of fans and the world media.