Who Is the Most Decorated Olympic Athlete of All Time?

Swimmer Michael Phelps specialized in butterfly, backstroke and medley events.
Swimmer Michael Phelps specialized in butterfly, backstroke and medley events.

American swimmer Michael Phelps, known as “The Baltimore Bullet” or the “Flying Fish,” is the most decorated Olympic athlete. Phelps became the most decorated Olympian after breaking former US swimmer Mark Spitz's record of seven first-place finishes at the Olympic Games, set in 1972. The 32-year-old 6 foot 4 inch tall Phelps specialized in the butterfly, backstroke, freestyle, and individual medley strokes. Phelps made his Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at fifteen years of age, although he did not win any medals. He retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games. In total, Phelps won 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze medals.

Athens 2004 Summer Olympics

During the Athen 2004 Summer Olympics, Phelps set several records, including Olympic records in the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter butterfly, and 200 meter medley, as well as world records in the 400 meter medley and 4×100 meter medley. Phelps won six gold medals and two bronze medals, despite having little time to rest between events. At the end of the games, teenage Phelps had become the second-best performer at an Olympic event, and the second male swimmer to win more than two titles in one Summer Olympics Games.

Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics

Beijing 2008 was an even more successful Olympics for Phelps, as he won eight gold medals. Phelps set world records in the 200 meter freestyle, 200 meter butterfly, 200 meter medley, 400 meter medley, 4×100 meter freestyle, 4×100 meter medley, and 4×200 meter freestyle. He also set an Olympic record in the 100 meter butterfly. During these games, Phelps joined Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi, Larisa Latynina, and Mark Spitz as the only athletes to ever win nine Olympic gold medals. In Beijing, Phelps broke the record for the most medals won in a single Olympic Games.

London 2012 Summer Olympics

Prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics, Phelps indicated he did not want to compete in eight events again, and instead would try new events. Though he eventually qualified for all eight events he won in Beijing, he dropped the 200-meter freestyle to focus on other events. In London, Phelps received gold in the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter medley, 4×200 meter freestyle relay, and 4×100 meter medley. He also won silver medals in the 4×100 meter freestyle and 200 meter butterfly. Phelps became the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event in three consecutive Olympic Games. After this achievement, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) awarded Phelps as the most decorated Olympian in history. Phelps briefly retired from swimming, but returned to the sport in 2014.

Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics

By qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Phelps became the second US swimmer to qualify for five Olympic Games. Phelps was a captain for his national team, as well as the US flagbearer during the opening ceremony. Phelps won gold in the 200 meter butterfly, 200 meter medley, 4×100 meter freestyle, 4×200 meter freestyle, and 4×100 meter medley, in which he set an Olympic record. He also won silver in the 100 meter butterfly. At 31 years old, Phelps won these medals despite being beyond the peak performance age of most swimmers.


In addition to the Olympic Games, Phelps has succeeded in other national and international competitions, such as the World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships, where he won even more medals. Phelps has received several awards and honors from different organizations, and established the Michael Phelps Foundation to promote the sport of swimming and healthy lifestyles.


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