LONDON (Reuters) - British swimmer James Goddard may have become an unwilling participant in a fierce debate on Wednesday, just who had the best Olympic performance in Beijing four years ago? American swimmer Michael Phelps or Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt?
The debate has raged between pundits for four years over whether Bolt’s three gold medals in the athletics, all in world record times, or Phelps’ record eight golds was the performance people would discuss in 100 years.
Phelps’ haul in Beijing beat compatriot Mark Spitz’s haul of seven in 1972 and he now has 14 Olympic titles in total. The American is swimming seven events in London.
Bolt, meanwhile, is looking to become the first athlete to win the hat-trick of sprint titles at successive Games in London.
Goddard, however, was unequivocal.
“I think Phelps is the best athlete that has ever walked the planet in any sport,” the 29-year-old, who will swim against Phelps and world champion and record holder Ryan Lochte in the 200 meter individual medley, said on Wednesday.
“I‘m honored to swim in this event. It’s a dream come true,” he said before adding he was trying to avoid the likely heightened anticipation that will surround the race.
“I‘m hoping they get caught up with each other. I try not to get caught up with the whirlwind of Lochte and Phelps.”
Phelps beat Lochte at the U.S. trials last month in the 200 while Lochte got his revenge in the 400.
Goddard finished sixth in the shorter event in Beijing four years ago and fourth at the 2011 world championships and is the European championships silver medalist and was “itching” to get into the pool.
“I‘m a racer. I like to get in and race hard.”
Goddard said that an additional motivation would be the passionate home crowd, which British Swimming’s head coach Dennis Pursley said could be a factor in lifting the performance of the team.
“A home Olympics does bring the best out of the home country and its athletes,” said the former U.S. swimming head coach, who knows the benefits of home advantage having worked with his compatriots in Atlanta in 1996.
“All the indicators I look at coming into a major competition are pointing in the right direction,” said Pursley who added a Rudyard Kipling quote ‘the strength of the wolf is the pack’ to demonstrate his feelings on how the team had come together in final training camps.
”We’re healthy, injury-free and there’s a great demeanor and camaraderie in the team.
“I fully expect the team to come together and swim very well next week.”
Performance director Michael Scott echoed Pursley’s assessment and said he hoped Britain’s swimmers would get the Games off to a perfect start for the host nation on all fronts.
“If we get momentum within the swimming first that will build momentum for Team GB,” said the Australian, who played a significant role in attracting Pursley to the British set-up.
“Our goal, always, is performance first. That has to be our priority.”
Edited by Greg Stutchbury