World Facts

Greatest Athletes In Olympic History - Who Has Won The Most Gold Medals?

The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, an American competitive swimmer, has won 23 Olympic Gold medals in his career.

The Olympic Games are significant for the athletes because it lets the best athletes from around the world compete in their chosen craft to see who is really the best in the world. It also lets the athletes represent their nation on the world stage and gives then a chance to compete and potentially bring home a medal that can be a major source of national pride. An athlete winning a medal at the Olympics is associated with the pride that they have in their nation because they have spent most of their lives training and competing for the honor of being recognized for their country as one of the best in the world. To then bring home a medal for their country, shows that all of their hard work and their country's investment in them has paid off.

The Top Olympians Of All Time

The Top Winners Of The Past

Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis is an American track and field athlete who competed in the long jump and the 100-meter and 200-meter races. Lewis is one of only two men to ever defend his 100-meter gold in back to back Olympics and the only man to defend his long jump gold in back to back Olympics. He actually won the gold medal in the long jump for four straight Olympics, which is unprecedented. Lewis also won two gold medals in the 4x100 relay and a gold and silver medal in the 200 meter.

Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi, a Finnish distance runner, competed in 1500, 3000, 5000 and 10000-meter races as well as cross country. In back to back Olympics Nurmi defended his gold in cross-country while helping Finland do the same in the team cross country event. He also won one gold in the 1500-meter, one in the 3000-meter team event, one in the 3000-meter steeplechase event, a gold medal and two silver medals in the 5000 meter and two gold in the 10000-meter race.

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz is an American swimmer who had one of the greatest Olympic wins of all time. At the 1968 games Spitz disappointed by failing to get gold in an individual event, he won bronze in the 100 -meter freestyle and silver in the 100-meter butterfly. He did win gold in the 4x100 and 4x200 team relay events. In the next Olympics in 1972, he was dominant, winning the gold medal and setting world record times in all seven events that he competed in. His record of seven gold medals in one Olympics stood until 2008.

Larisa Latynina

Larisa Latynina is a Russian gymnast who has won the most total and individual event medals of any female gymnast in Olympic history. Latynina won medals in 18 of the 19 Olympic events that she competed in and had the record for most total medals, and most medals won individually until they were each broken in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The Top Active Winners

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a Jamaican track and field athlete who gained international fame at the 2008 Beijing Olympics by winning the gold medal and breaking the world record in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4x100 team relay races. He followed that up in 2012 by winning gold in all three events again, becoming the first to ever defend gold in the 200 meter and only the second man to do so in the 100 meter. In the 2016 Olympics, Bolt became the first man ever to win gold in the 100- meter race three straight times. He still has the 200 meter and 4x100 to compete in and has said this will be his last Olympics.

Ryan Lochte

Ryan Lochte is an American swimmer who has the second most Olympics medals ever in swimming. At the 2008 Olympics, Lochte won gold and set the world record in the 200-meter backstroke. Lochte has indicated that 2016 will not be his last Olympics, as he may go to the 2020 games in Tokyo.

Micheal Phelps

Micheal Phelps is an American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps has the most gold medals of all time at 23, most total medals ever at 28 and the most medals in individual events with 16. Phelps even broke a 2168-year old Olympic record held by Leonidas of Rhodes in 2016 when he won his 13th gold medal in an individual event, which gave him the most wins in individual Olympic events. The 2008 Olympics were when Phelps burst into the scene, setting seven world records and breaking Mark Spitz's record for most gold medals in one Olympics when Phelps won eight of them. Phelps, like Usain Bolt, has said that the 2016 Olympics will be his last.

Life Changing Victories

Winning the Olympic medals can change an athlete's life in many different ways. Overnight an athlete can become famous in their country or even world famous. Athletes get all kinds of attention from national and even international media, wanting to do interviews with them, have them on TV, do endorsements and more. A lot of countries also pay athletes for winning medals, though the amount varies depending on the medal and country. The few Olympic athletes that become world-famous can even parlay their success into making a lot of money from endorsements, being sponsors and more.

The Top Athletes Of The Olympics: Who Won The Most Gold Medals?

RankAthleteNationSportYearsGoldSilverBronzeTotal
1Michael Phelps United StatesSwimming2004–2016233228
2Larisa Latynina Soviet UnionGymnastics1956–196495418
3Paavo Nurmi FinlandAthletics1920–192893012
4Mark Spitz United StatesSwimming1968–197291111
5Carl Lewis United StatesAthletics1984–199691010
6Ole Einar Bjørndalen NorwayBiathlon1998–201484113
7Bjørn Dæhlie NorwayCross-country skiing1992–199884012
8Birgit Fischer GermanyCanoeing1980–200484012
9Sawao Kato JapanGymnastics1968–197683112
10Jenny Thompson United StatesSwimming1992–200483112
11Matt Biondi United StatesSwimming1984–199282111
12Ray Ewry United StatesAthletics1900–19088008
13Nikolai Andrianov Soviet UnionGymnastics1972–198075315
14Boris Shakhlin Soviet UnionGymnastics1956–196474213
15Věra Čáslavská CzechoslovakiaGymnastics1960–196874011
16Viktor Chukarin Soviet UnionGymnastics1952–195673111
17Aladár Gerevich HungaryFencing1932–196071210
18Usain Bolt JamaicaAthletics2008–20167007
19Edoardo Mangiarotti ItalyFencing1936–196065213
20Ryan Lochte United StatesSwimming2004–201663312
21Marit Bjørgen NorwayCross-country skiing2002–201463110

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