If you went up to someone random on the street and asked them what they thought Australia’s top five most successful sports were, they would not mention sailing.
The Gods on Mount Olympus are applauding. Poseidon is clapping the loudest.
It’s 2016, and Michael Fred Phelps II has just broken the record of Leonidas of Rhodes, of 12 Individual Olympic gold medals, which had stood undisturbed for 2168 years.
22 Olympic Golds (over twice that of any other athlete in Olympic history), of which 13 are individual medals.
And 26 medals in total over five Olympics.
These are staggering numbers, in any sport. But that’s just the Olympics.
When you add to that the medals that Phelps has earned at the World Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships, his total haul works out to 65 Gold, 13 Silver and three Bronze Medals, 81 in total.
And the man is now retiring (again) at the ripe old age of 31.
Not bad for a boy who took to swimming at the behest of his sisters in an attempt to provide an avenue for him to vent his excess energy.
By the time he was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 10, he held the national age record for 100m Butterfly. At the age of 15, he became the youngest ever male to represent the United States in swimming, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics,.
The record books would say he came fifth in the finals of the 200m Butterfly Finals.
But he would rewrite those record books like no man has ever done in sports history.
At 15 years and nine months, in 2001 at the Trials for the World Championships, Phelps became the youngest male ever to set a swimming world record in the 200m butterfly, a full 13 months earlier than Ian Thorpe who held the record until then. And then at the World Championships that year in Fukuoka, Japan, he broke his own world record, and became World Champion for the first time.
15 years later when Phelps won his 22nd Gold at Rio, his face showed the same joy and passion at 31 as it did at 15. Not many can claim the same about their job after 16 years!
We have seen the term GOAT being bandied around in the recent past a number of times, and this forum has not been immune to that. But has there ever been anyone who has dominated their sport like Michael Phelps from the day they started to the day they retired, over 16 long years? Does anyone else even come close?
Achievement. Longevity. Ability. Impact. Consistency. Intimidation.
These would be factors one would arguably look at when trying to arrive at the decision.
Tennis fans will bicker over Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and a few others thrown in for good measure.
Cricket fans will trade blows over Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, and a few other greats.
Football fans will fall over themselves to prove why Pele, Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane, Puskas, Best or Platini deserve the honour.
And no matter how much we would like to believe that Carl Lewis, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, LeBron James or Muhammad Ali should be a part of this discussion, they would be unlikely to make the cut.
Phelps and Phelps alone ticks every box that counts towards being the true GOAT. No man or woman has ever had a career in sports as this man has. No one has awed and stunned whole generations of sports lovers in quite the way he has done. No one has quite dominated as he has.
For millions like me, when the lights come on in the new swimming pool at Tokyo in 2020, the feeling will not quite be the same without the blue cap with PHELPS written on it, flashing by in Lane four while his competitors fight for the scraps.