How fast does Olympic legend Michael Phelps swim?

Beijing Olympics : Swimming
Phelps swims at the Beijing Olympics 2008

Michael Phelps is undoubtedly the greatest swimmer of all time. He is also the most successful Olympian of all time, having won 23 gold medals and 13 individual golds at the games. He created a scenario where every other potent swimmer was considered unfortunate to swim during the Michael Phelps era. We know he wins gold like it's nothing to him, but how fast does he actually swim?

In his prime, Phelps has recorded a speed of approximately six miles per hour (mph). According to ESPN, in 2010 he hit the 6 mph mark in swimming freestyle. However, the claim is off the record. Although Michael is said to have hit this mark, he has won most of his competitions swimming much slower.

His average pace during his career is said to be around 4.5 mph. This shows that Phelps won through consistency and not just sheer speed, that is, when others slowed down, Michael maintained his speed.

This speed is a remarkable feat, although it may not seem very fast to the land-dwellers. An average human being is said to be able to swim up to 2 mph.

Phelps at the 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships
Phelps at the 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships

How does Michael Phelps compare to Caleb Dressel in terms of swimming speed?

While Phelps' top speed of 6 mph is debatable, the fastest recorded swimmer is Caleb Dressel. Dressel, during the 2017 World Championships, became the first swimmer to record a time of below five seconds in the first 15 meters. He covered the first 15 in 4.96 seconds. His recorded speed is around 5.30834 mph.

Caleb Dressel is an exemplary swimmer. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Dressel shattered the 100-meter record and finished with a time of 49.45 seconds, taking almost a third of a second off Phelps' record time. He was then rightfully lauded as the fastest swimmer to date.

Dressel celebrates his WR 50-meter swim
Dressel celebrates his WR 50-meter swim

Phelps' stellar career

Regardless of recorded or unrecorded speeds, the fact remains that Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time. During the Phelps era, his name was enough to give professional swimmers the 'shivers'.

Michael made his Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000 as a 15-year-old. Although he did not win any medals, the world saw his potential as he finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly. Four years later in Athens, he shocked the world when he swam away with six gold medals: 100 m butterfly, 200 m butterfly, 200 m medley, 400 m medley, 4×200 m freestyle, and 4×100 m medley.

Phelps celebrates his 100m butterfly win at the 2004 Olympics
Phelps celebrates his 100m butterfly win at the 2004 Olympics

This was the beginning of the Michael Phelps era. At the 2008 Olympic games, he became the first and only athlete to take home eight Olympic gold medals, winning every competition he participated in.

During his later career, Michael put the cherry on top of the cake, winning four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics and five golds in during his final Olympic run in Rio.

As a professional swimmer, Phelps has won 26 World Championship titles, making him the most successful professional swimmer of all time. Phelps has dedicated his life to making a difference in the world in and out of the pool.

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Edited by Sabine Algur
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