Who's better: Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps?
Four-time Olympic gold medalist John Naber goes with Phelps, who has won five gold medals thus far in Beijing and 11 in his career -- more than any other athlete in Olympic history. Spitz won seven gold medals (and set seven world records) at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and nine overall.
"No question in my mind that Michael Phelps is a better swimmer than Mark Spitz," Naber said Wednesday on ESPN's First Take. "Even at his best, Mark Spitz' butterfly times were very close to backstroke times in that era. Michael Phelps is body lengths ahead of backstrokers.
"Michael Phelps is by far the better swimmer."
Naber has been consistent in his assessment. He has noted on several occasions that he thinks Phelps' accomplishments at the Athens Olympics -- four individual gold medals and a bronze -- trumped Spitz' four individual gold medals at Munich (he won three relays as well).
Spitz, for his part, has said he and Phelps are similar.
"He's almost identical to me," Spitz said last week, according to Agence France-Presse. "He's a world-record holder in all these events, so he is dominating the events just like I did. He reminds me of myself."
Naber, who won four golds and a silver in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, said one of the differences is Phelps' work ethic: "He is by far the harder worker. Everybody says Michael Phelps works so hard in the pool, it's just not natural talent."
Spitz, now 58 and a stockbroker, isn't in Beijing. AFP quoted him last week as saying he's miffed about not being extended an invitation.
"I never got invited. You don't go to the Olympics just to say, I am going to go. Especially because of who I am," Spitz said in Hong Kong last week. "I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That's almost demeaning to me. It is not almost -- it is."
Spitz went on to say: "They voted me one of the top five Olympians in all time. Some of them are dead. But they invited the other ones to go to the Olympics, but not me. Yes, I am a bit upset about it."
Spitz is reportedly headed back to the U.S. for the end of the Games. Phelps has three more events to compete in, starting Thursday with the 200 individual medley. He swims the 100 butterfly and 400 medley relay to close out the Games.
If he wins them all, Phelps will have five individual golds and three relay golds in Beijing.