Greatest American Olympic Athlete

The Winter Olympics are coming soon. I doubt if I will watch any of it – not because they are in China – but because I am not a fan of winter sports. Oh, I admire the amazing skill level and prowess of the athletes, but I am no fan of snow and ice. I have often said that I will never live in a place where the stores sell white camo and that I have redlined any place that does not have red dirt. Yet  several questions come to mind. First, when they do the medal count, do they count just one event or all the medals earned in that event (1 gold for women’s hockey or a gold for each team member)? Second, who is the greatest American Olympian of all time? The speed skater Apolo Ohno has been cited as America’s greatest Winter Olympian. He has 8 metals (2 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze). Personally, I think it’s interesting that a celebrated athlete is named “Ohno” but I disqualify him from being the greatest. If all his medals were gold, then he would at least be in the discussion. Some have touted Michael Phelps as the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. There is no doubt that he is most medaled swimmer and Olympian.  Swimming and gymnastics are sports with multiple opportunities to win medals with team and individual sports. Phelps has a remarkable 18 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze but he has the same number of individual gold medals as Carl Lewis (sprints and long jump). Lewis medaled in the 100, 200, 4×100 relay and the long jump in two separate Olympics. The great Jesse Owens (go Buckeyes!) won gold in the same four events in the Berlin Olympics. By going back-to-back, Lewis displaced Owens as the greatest American track athlete but Owens’ golds and the circumstances surrounding the 1936 Berlin Olympics keep him in the argument for greatest Olympic athlete of all time. The most gold medals were the 8 won by Ray Ewry in 1900 and 1904 in events no longer in existence (standing long jump, standing high jump and standing triple jump). I know that Usain Bolt won 8 gold medals and won gold at three consecutive Olympics, but Bolt is from Jamaica. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite female athletes, Wilma Rudolph (Tennessee State), Wyomia Tyus, Evelyn Ashford and Simone Biles.

Speaking of Jesse Owens – whose name is actually James Cleveland (J.C.) Owens. Much is made of the fact that Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand. But I thought that Hitler only shook the hand of German winners – so he would not have shaken Owens’ hand even if he were white. You can understand the snub – if there was one – but can you explain why FDR snubbed him? There was no commendation, no visit to the White House, no acknowledgement at all. Truman ignored him as well and it was left up to a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, to finally honor him. This is just another long line in the irony of American politics where the democrats are the racists and the republicans (Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan (MLK birthday) are not and yet the republicans are branded as racists and lately white supremacists.  Go figure.

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