Who's the greatest of all time?
THE winners and losers are determined by facts, but our attachment to them is essentially emotional.
We remember not necessarily the fastest, strongest, longest, but the ones who left an impression.
Mexico is too far back for this observer save for the gloved salute of two Americans during the men's 200m sprint medal ceremony.
I would have to Google them to give you their names - to save you doing it, here you go: Tommie Smith, John Carlos - but as a nipper in the north-west of England I recall the power of the moment.
One of Australia's best sprinters, Peter Norman, was on the dais with them. He never ran for Australia again because officials suspected he knew about the salute plan.
Munich was a different matter, the first Olympics to gain my full attention.
Two names will forever be associated with it; Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. Spitz, the American moustachioed missile, was not hard to like.
Handsome, athletic, strong, he conformed not only to the Olympian ideal but also to the requirements of the matinee idol. Seven golds was in my infantile mind the going rate for someone who looked like he did.
Korbut on the other hand was a revelation. She came from a place where the bad guys lived.
The Soviet Union was a grey expanse of force-fed dogma, where people lived in a poky flat, wore the same clothes and queued for bread.
I knew this because, in my memory at least, that was the imagery of the television news bulletin in Seventies Britain, where bad stuff in Moscow vied with bad stuff in Northern Ireland to make the headlines.
And then on to the Olympic floor in Munich stepped a tooth fairy in a red leotard and bunches.
There was nothing of her yet she flung herself across that mat, defying the laws of physics, and of socialisation, springing, jumping, twisting and in the end dancing into every living room in Britain.
By the time she cocked her wrist at the end of her program, the nation's collective mouth was gaping at the wonder of what they had just seen.
She is best remembered for her technical brilliance on the beam, but it was the flourish on the floor that opened these eyes to the idea of colour and expression behind the Iron Curtain.
By Kevin Garside
Fanny Blankers-Koen (Athletics)
The gauge of Olympic greatness is not always set by other champions; nor even by the inexorable opposition of the years, which made Sir Steve Redgrave or Birgit Fischer such miracles of longevity.
Fischer won eight gold medals, over six Olympics, but the fact is she - in common with every female achiever at the Games - was in some degree indebted to the pioneering Fanny Blankers-Koen.
This remarkable Dutchwoman overcame an obstacle as invisible as time itself, but still more insidious. For while athletes can measure themselves against time in the record books, the spectre of prejudice had haunted countless generations.
It was in London that Blankers-Koen dismantled so many of the barriers before her sex. Women had not contested the Games at all until 1928, and Blankers-Koen arrived from Amsterdam in 1948 as a 30-year-old housewife and mother of two, duly ridiculed or resented.
She proceeded to match the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens at Berlin 12 years earlier.
In the meantime, of course, she had lost her own prime to the war. Having set her first world record in 1938, at 100m, she would be denied an international stage during the German occupation - nonetheless posting six world records in disciplines as varied as high jump, long jump, sprint, hurdles and relay, all the while vilified for ostensibly neglecting her young son.
In 1999, Blankers-Koen was named the female athlete of the 20th century by the International Association of Athletic Federations. Her greatest reward, however, was as intangible as the pervasive bigotry she overcame: legitimacy.
By Chris McGrath
Jesse Owens (Athletics)
If you go beyond the great mountain of gold created by Michael Phelps, if you acknowledge his superb achievement in winning more medals than any rival, it is not so difficult to look elsewhere for the greatest of Olympians.
Your search, the feeling is here, takes you back to the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and Jesse Owens, a young black man born to grinding poverty in Alabama, who infuriated Hitler by winning four gold medals with a running, jumping assault on his master-race theories.
In fact, Hitler's confidant Albert Speer later reported that in his rage the Nazi leader argued that people of Owens' "type" should be banned from sports competition because of their "unfair" advantage.
Part of Hitler's ire, no doubt, was that Owens won his fourth gold in the 4x100m relay only because the Nazis had pressured the US to drop a Jewish-American team member.
Phelps' total of 20 medals have been gleaned from three Olympics.
Owens had just one opportunity and won gold in the 100m and 200m, the long jump and the relay. It was the equivalent of a perfect 10 and its meaning remains as vivid as the foot-stamping of Hitler.
Owens recognised early a "rage to run" , in the Olympics which were supposed to showcase the ascendancy of the Aryan race, he produced a series of perfect performances.
He was the man of those Olympics and, many will always believe, he captured the ages.
By James Lawton
Emil Zatopek (Athletics)
How many Olympic golds does it take to achieve Olympic greatness? How long is a piece of string?
When set against Michael Phelps' Fort Knox collection of 16 golds, Emil Zatopek's four do not stack up.
But then the hat-trick that the great Czech soldier achieved at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 was unprecedented and remains unmatched in the history of distance running.
Winner of the 10,000m gold at the London Olympics in 1948, Zatopek successfully defended that title in the Finnish capital, then won the 5000m and made a last-minute decision to compete in the marathon - the first of his life.
After 10 miles, he turned to Jim Peters, the world record-holder and favourite, and asked: "Is this pace too fast?" Peters, an optician from Essex, replied: "No, it's too slow."
At which point Zatopek - hardened by a punishing training regime that included running through the woods around Prague in army boots - upped the pace. He proceeded to win in Olympic record time. The exhausted Peters failed to finish.
To qualify for consideration as the greatest Olympian of all time, however, requires the kind of golden spirit that Zatopek showed when the Australian Ron Clarke visited him in Prague in 1968.
Clarke suffered misfortunes in the Olympics, collapsing in the high altitude at the 1968 Games in Mexico. When Zatopek dropped him off at Prague airport, he handed him a small parcel and said: "Not out of friendship but because you deserve it."
When his plane was airborne, Clarke retired to the privacy of the lavatory and unwrapped the box.
"There, inscribed with my name and that day's date, was Emil's Olympic 10,000m gold medal," he said.
"I sat on that toilet seat and wept."
By Simon Turnbull
Michael Phelps (Swimming)
Last week, Michael Phelps celebrated becoming the most decorated Olympian in history by winning the 200m individual medley.
This is Phelps' fourth Games. In his first at 15 he finished fifth in the 200m fly. A dozen years later in the same event he equalled Larisa Latynina's record of 18 medals.
An hour later it was 19 with another 200m ticked off, this time the freestyle relay.
The distance is part of the story, and the number of times Phelps covers those distances.Olympic events require three swims to claim gold.
In the relays Phelps will compete only in the final, but to achieve eight golds in Beijing is a triumph of endurance and ability.
He has triumphed in an era that has seen him surrounded by high-class swimmers; Ian Thorpe, Ryan Lochte, Laszlo Cseh, Pieter van den Hoogenband, and at a time when the sport has become faster and faster. He has set the pace.
By Robin Scott-Elliot