Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has been named first ever winner of the Laureus Exceptional Achievement Award.
In August 2012 American swimmer Phelps made history in the Olympic Aquatic Centre in London when he won four gold and two silver medals to take his career total of medals won to 22 - made up of 18 gold, two silver and two bronze - four ahead of the next athlete, former Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina.
London was the climax of a remarkable career for Phelps, during which he also beat the most famous Olympic record of them all, famously winning eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008 to surpass the long-standing record of seven gold medals at one Olympiad held by Laureus World Sports Academy Member Mark Spitz from Munich in 1972.
Mark Spitz said: “Michael Phelps now has his own place in history as the most decorated Olympian of all time. At the moment 22 medals seems almost out of reach and you wonder if anyone will be able to match him in the future. I would pay tribute to his strength and his determination throughout his career and particularly to his success in Beijing when he won eight gold medals. I know exactly what it’s like to win a large number of medals at one Olympiad and the pressure builds over the two weeks as you become more and more the centre of attention. To keep focused and to keep performing at your best takes a strong will and outstanding physique. I congratulate him whole-heartedly on this Award.”
In London, Phelps, 27, also became the first man to win an Olympic swimming title at three Olympic Games – in both the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley – and the most successful athlete in terms of medals won at three straight Olympic Games.
With 18 gold medals, he has twice the number won by the next in the all-time list - Spitz, Latynina, Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi. His achievements in Beijing understandably have rather overshadowed Athens four years earlier when he still won six gold and two bronze medals, another phenomenal performance.
Phelps was a medal-winning machine and in addition to his Olympic successes, he also won another 26 gold medals, plus six silver and a bronze in long course World Championships.
After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he started the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on expanding swimming and promoting healthier lifestyles. Now that he is retired from competitive swimming he means to devote more time to this endeavour.