With under two weeks left before the opening of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, competitors are wrapping up their training and preparing to win medals and set new records. Sports4world looks back at the greatest Olympians who have won gold medals more often than others.
1 – Michael Phelps (USA, Swimming) – 23 gold medals
By far the most bemedalled Olympian in history is Michael Phelps. He has been a real medal machine at the Olympics, racking up a total of 28 medals across four Olympic editions (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016). After the London 2012 Olympics, he announced his retirement at the age of 27 only to resume competing internationally in 2014.
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He then qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he added five more golds and one silver medal to his tally. After Rio, he finally retired from competitive swimming. His greatest moment was winning eight gold medals all at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
T-2 – Larisa Latynina (USSR, Artistic Gymnastics) – 9
A legend of Soviet sports, Larisa Latynina holds the record for the most number of medals won in gymnastics at the Olympic Games. Latynina saw action at three Olympic editions (1956, 1960 and 1964), garnering a total of eighteen Olympic medals, a record for the most number of medals by an individual that lasted for 48 years before Phelps surpassed it in 2012. Her eighteen Olympic medals include nine gold, five silver and four bronze medals.
T-2 – Paavo Nurmi (Finland, Athletics) – 9
Nicknamed “The Flying Finn,” Nurmi ruled the middle to long distances in athletics in the earlier years of the Olympics. He collected a total of twelve medals at the Games, spanning three editions (1920, 1924 and 1928).
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T-2 – Mark Spitz (USA, Swimming) – 9
Before Michael Phelps, it was another American whose dominance at the pool brought him fame. Mark Spitz took part in only two Olympic editions (1968 and 1972) but amassed eleven medals. He also held the record for the most number of gold medals won in one edition when he took seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Games. This record was only recently broken by Phelps.
T-2 – Carl Lewis (USA, Athletics) – 9
American sprint and long jump king Carl Lewis is one of only three athletes to win the same individual event in four successive Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996). All in all, he won nine gold medals and a silver medal at the Olympics.
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T-6 – Matt Biondi (USA, Swimming) – 8
Another American swimming sensation is Matt Biondi, an eight-time Olympic champion. The peak of Biondi’s Olympic career was at the 1988 Seoul Olympic where a 22-year-old Biondi won five gold medals. He participated at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic editions garnering a total of eleven medals.
T-6. Usain Bolt (Jamaica, Athletics) – 8
The iconic Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt is not called by the media “lightning-fast” for nothing. “The Fastest Man on Earth” holds the world records for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. At the Olympics, he is the only athlete to win the two events in three consecutive Olympic editions (2008, 2012 and 2016). He also has two gold medals in relay events and earns the distinction of never having lost in individual events at the Olympics.
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T-6 – Birgit Fischer (GDR, Canoe/Kayak) – 8
One of the all-time Olympic greats is Birgit Fischer of Germany. The legendary athlete took home eight gold medals in canoe/kayak events at the Olympics, spread across six Olympic editions (1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004). She also won at the world championships a remarkable 28 times.
At the Olympics, her first win came in the women’s 500-meter kayak singles race at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Unfortunately, due to the boycott of East Germany (GDR) at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she missed out on winning in the said edition. Nevertheless, she continued to dominate in the next five Olympic editions.
T-6 – Sawao Kato (Japan, Artistic Gymnastics) – 8
Perhaps the most successful Olympian from Asia is Sawao Kato. The gymnast from Japan participated in three Olympic editions (1968, 1972 and 1976) and brought home 12 medals, including eight gold medals.
T6 – Jenny Thompson (USA, Swimming) – 8
Another Olympic great is Jenny Thompson from the USA. The female swimmer was known for sprint freestyle and butterfly events where she amassed twelve Olympic medals, eight of which were gold, across four Olympiads (1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004). After winning at the Olympics, she received her medical degree in 2006 and currently works as an anesthesiologist at a hospital in Boston.
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Edited by Aldo Tong