Michael Phelps tied a 2,168-year-old Olympic record?

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After Michael Phelps won his 12th individual gold on Tuesday night, with his thrilling win over Chad Le Clos, a few historians noted that Phelps, who we'd thought had already broken every Olympic record on the book, had actually just tied one more than two millennia old.

Leonidas was a runner who is said to have finished first in three ancient Olympic events at four successive Games (164-152 BCE).

As someone who slept through a half-dozen ancient history courses in college, I'm going on record saying this “stat” is as reliable as a Russian drug test in Sochi. (That's not to say it's wrong, just that it's dubious.)

Imagine writing a history of the Revolutionary War today based solely on stories that people have passed down over the past 250 years. That's basically what the ancient historians had to do, some to more reliable results than others. These primary sources provide more of an outline than anything. (Just look at how many different versions there are about the Battle of Marathon and Pheidippides, the messenger who ran 26.2 miles to deliver news of the Greeks victory over the Persians.) So take this all with a dollop of olive oil.

Still, tying a 2,000-year-old record is a great story so we'll just go with it and celebrate when Phelps breaks the mark with his 13th individual gold on Thursday or Friday. Leonidas totally has it coming.

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