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Coe: Phelps not greatest Olympian

August 2, 2012
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LONDON — Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian with 19 medals. But the greatest?

Not for Sebastian Coe.

Coe, the two-time gold medalist in the 1,500 meters and head of the London Games, is not ready to anoint Phelps as the supreme Olympian.

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

The American swam the anchor leg of the winning US 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay Tuesday night to surpass Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for most career Olympic medals. Latynina won 18 medals at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics.

Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, has a total of 15 gold, two silver and two bronze. He is competing in three other events in London and can take the record even further.

So whom, Coe was asked, would he pick over Phelps?

‘‘This is the global pub game,’’ said Coe, who won his gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Games. ‘‘Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? I could go around this whole room, we’d all come up with different interpretations on that. But you have to say he’s up there. But whether he is the greatest, in my opinion, probably not.’’

Coe offered up two British athletes — five-time gold medalist rower Steve Redgrave and two-time decathlon champion Daley Thompson. He also mentioned Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who achieved a perfect score at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Coe, meanwhile, said he had attended 16 sports during the first five days of the games. Despite problems with empty seats at some of the venues, he said the atmosphere has been electric.

‘‘I have been absolutely blown away by the noise, the vibrancy, just the humor and excitement,’’ he said. ‘‘Clearly the public has come out in force to support these games.’’

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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