Sebastian Coe, Obama Disagree on Michael Phelps' Olympic Greatness

12:03 PM PST 08/01/2012 by Jordan Zakarin
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A two-time medalist himself, the athlete-turned-politician isn't ready to anoint the American swimmer the title of very best. President Obama disagrees.

Michael Phelps may be the most decorated Olympian of all time, but depending on who you ask, that doesn't make him the greatest.

Sebastian Coe, a two-time gold medal winner in the 1500-meter long distance run and the chair of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, told reporters that he's not convinced that Phelps, who earned his record-setting 19th medal on Tuesday, is the top athlete in the games' long history.

“You can probably say that clearly, self-evidently, in medal tally he’s the most successful," Coe said. "My personal view is I am not sure he is the greatest, but he is certainly the most successful. That goes without saying.”

Coe offered up a few other names he thought were in contention for greatest ever, including Steve Redgrave, the British rower who won five golds and lit the Olympic torch last Friday; two-time decathlon champion Daley Thompson, another Brit; and American runner Jesse Owens.

Phelps' gold on Tuesday -- he has 15 gold, two silver and two bronze -- moved him ahead of USSR gymnast Larisa Latynina, who earned 18 medals between 1956 and 1964. Phelps is sandwiched by USSR gymnasts, in fact; Nikolay Andrianov, with 15, is third, and is followed by Boris Shakhlin and Edoardo Mangiarotti, who have 13 apiece.

Meanwhile, President Obama lavished praise on Phelps on Wednesday. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wrote on Twitter that Obama called the swimmer, saying that he was "the greatest Olympian ever," and, "We couldn't be prouder!"

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