The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are five months away, taking place in London for a second time. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, the heroes and biggest stars of the Olympic games in Beijing, will be making a return to defend their medals, with Phelps aiming to keep his legend and records for golds going, while Bolt will try to do the unthinkable and actually break his un-human like records.
Bolt has a long way to go before he enters the list of most decorated Olympians, with 3 gold medals to his name so far. Track & Field athletes like Ray Ewry, Paavo Normi and of course Carl Lewis are way, way ahead, with 8 and nine. Swimming (Spitz, Biondi, Thompson, Phelps) also has its share of multiple winners. Kato and Latynina represent Gymnastics while Brigit Fischer stands alone for kayaking and Dæhlie for winter sports in the list of most successful Olympic athletes in terms of gold medals.
Ray Ewry, United States – 8 Gold Medals
Second only to Michael Phelps in gold medals won in individual events, Ray Ewry competed in three summer Olympics during the beginning of the 20th century. He won the standing long jump, high jump and triple jump in 1900 (Paris), same three events four years later (St. Louis) and the standing high and long jump in London, 1908. In 1912, the standing events were no longer held in the Olympic games.
Matt Biondi, United States – 8 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze, 11 Total
Matt Biondi, born in 1965, competed in three Olympic games for the United States swimming team, winning at least one gold medal in each of the summer games between 1984-1992. In 1984 (Los Angeles) Biondi, a freestyle expert, was part of the 4×100 freestyle winning team, as he was in Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992). In 1988, his finest hour, Biondi left with five gold medals – winning the 50 and 100 freestyle races, adding the 4×100 medley. He also won the 4×200 freestyle team race. He finished second in the 100 meter butterfly and third in the 200 meter freestyle. He set four world records winning five of those gold medals. He also won six gold medals at the World Championships.
Jenny Thompson, United States – 8 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze, 12 Total
Jenny Thompson competed in four Olympic Games between 1992-2004, winning all her Gold Medals (8) in relays. She won two in Barcelona for the 4×100 freestyle and 4×100 medley, three in Atlanta for the 4×100 freestyle, 4×200 freestyle and 4×100 medley and three in Sydney for the same events. In Athens, 2004, she picked up two more Silver medals for the 4×100 freestyle and 4×100 medley. She actually has a public school named after her in Dover, New Hampshire.
Sawao Kato, Japan – 8 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze, 12 Total
The most decorated Japanese Olympian, and most decorated male Gymnast in history (in terms of gold medals), Kato competed in three Olympic Games between 1968-1976. He won three gold medals in Mexico City for the team competition, the All-Around and Floor exercise. In 1972, in Munich, Kato won three more. He won in the Parallel bars instead of the floor. In Montreal, 1976, Kato added two more Gold medals for the team competition and the parallel bars.
Birgit Fischer, Germany – 8 Gold, 4 Silver, 12 Total
If it wasn’t for the 1984 Eastern block boycotting the 1984 games in Los Angeles, the former East German kayaker would have been higher on this list. Fischer competed for East Germany in 1980 and 1988, winning three gold medals. As a member of the unified team, she won five more – once in Barcelona, once in Atlanta, two in Sydney and one in Athens. She shares the record of winning a gold medal in six different Olympic games with legendary Hungarian fencer Aladar Gerevich.
Bjørn Dæhlie, Norway – 8 Gold, 4 Silver, 12 Total
By far the most successful Winter Olympian and the only one on our list, Dæhlie is the most successful Cross-Country skier in history, with 29 medals in Olympic Games and the Nord World Ski Championships. Dæhlie won three golds in Albertville – the 50 km, the 4×10 km and the 10km + 15 combined pursuit. In 1994, Lillehammer, he won two more for the 10+15 and the 10 km. He added three more in Nagano for the 10, 50 and the 4×10. He still competed in long distance races.
Carl Lewis, United States – 9 Gold, 1 Silver – 10 Total
Probably the greatest track and field athlete of all-time, who was named Olympian of the Century by the Olympic committee, becoming probably the first real star of T&F, elevating the sport into a more professional level. Lewis won four gold medals in the 1984 Olympic games for the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4×100 races. He also won the long jump. He didn’t lose the long jump for nearly 10 years, and his indoor record still stands.
In 1988 Lewis added two more in the 100 meters and the long jump, two more in Barcelona for the 4×100 relay and the long jump and one last gold in 1996 for the long jump, what else?
Mark Spitz, United States – 9 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze, 11 Total
Mark Spitz ended his career at the age of 22, right after his crowning summer at the Munich Olympics. He won two gold medals in Mexico City, both in relays for the 4×100 and 4×200. In Munich, he swam in seven events, winning them all. He famously said ‘I know I say I don’t want to swim before every event but this time I’m serious. If I swim six and win six, I’ll be a hero. If I swim seven and win six, I’ll be a failure.’ before the 100 meter freestyle, fearing finishing without the gold. He won by half a stroke. He also won the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter ‘fly and freestyle, 4×100 freestyle, 4×100 medley and 4×200 freestyle. He actually made a short yet unsuccessful comeback before the Barcelona games, failing to qualify.
Paavo Nurmi, Finland – 9 Gold, 3 Silver, 12 Total
One of the “Flying Finns” who dominated middle and long distance running during the 1920’s, Paavo Nurmi won his gold medals in three Olympic Games between 1920-1928. He won three at Antwerp (1920) – The 10000 meters, Individual cross country and the Cross country team. In 1924 he won five – 1500 meters, 5000 meters, Individual cross country, 5000 meters cross country team and the 3000 meters team. He added a ninth in Amsterdam (1928), winning the 10000 meters.
Larisa Latynina, Soviet Union – 9 Gold, 5 Silver, 4 Bronze, 18 Total
Latynina’s 18 Olympic medals are more than any other athlete in any other sport, and her 14 individual medals are also an all-time record. She participated in three Summer Olympics (1956-1964) helping establish the Soviet Union as a Gymnastics giant. She won four gold medals in 1956 (Melbourne) – The team competition, All-Around, Vault and Floor exercise. She won 3 golds in Rome (1960) – Team, All-Around and Floor. Two more came in Tokyo for the team competition and floor.
Michael Phelps, United States – 14 Gold, 2 Bronze, 16 Total
Arguably the greatest Olympic athlete in history, Phelps has the gold to boost his argument. He’ll be going for more in London 2012, this time not coming in as the favorite after Ryan Lochte has seemed to be taking over some of Phelps’ previous winning fields. Phelps went for 8 in the 2004 Olympic games, at the age of 19, falling short in the legendary 200 meter freestyle race alongside Thorpe and van den Hoogenband and in the 4×100 freestyle, winning bronze in both. He got six gold for the 100 & 200 butterfly, 200 & 400 medley, 4×100 medley and the 4×200 freestyle.
He won a perfect 8 for 8, setting a new record for gold medals in a single Olympics, breaking an unhappy Mark Spitz’ record. Phelps had some close calls in Beijing, but managed to retain his six gold medals and win the 200 meters freestyle and the 4×100 freestyle.