The 21st century is only nine years old, but there's little doubt that when the sports writers of 2099 select their greatest athlete of the past 100 years Michael Phelps will still be among the top names on their lists, if not at the very top. When the writers of the future try and sum up the American swimmer's career they will likely focus on nine days in the summer of 2008 in which Phelps rewrote Olympic history. His winning of eight gold medals, seven of them in world record time, has long become a household fact, but its rarely noted that only the teams from nine countries at the Beijing Olympics won more gold medals than Phelps did himself. Some 204 countries were represented in China, with a record 87 of them winning medals. Remarkably, Phelps returned home with more gold medals around his neck than the entire delegations of France, Spain and the Netherlands, just to mention a few. Phelps's chase of Mark Spitz's mark of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games captivated the world and thrilled millions who had never previously watched a swimming race. It's easy to forget that Phelps is only 23-years-old and will still be in his prime when the 2012 London Games come around. He is already the winningest Olympian ever with 14 gold medals and, with no other athlete in history reaching double-figures, Phelps can put the record totally out of reach in the London Games. For the time being, however, Phelps is just reveling in his extraordinary success and enjoying the fact that he's become one of the most recognizable figures in the entire world. Phelps thoroughly deserves every honor he's received and has already cemented his place in history, even if he never swims another competitive race in his life. After all, you don't need to be a prophet to already say that Phelps is not just the 2008 athlete of the year, but one of the greatest sportsmen of the 21st century.