Olympic legends: Kristin Otto – The Most Decorated

Never before had a female athlete won more than four gold medals at a single Games. At Seoul 1988, Kristin Otto took part in six events and won all of them with the utmost ease.

Seoul marked the confirmation of Kristin Otto as the top swimmer in her section.   -  Getty Images

This East German swimmer is the female equivalent of Michael Phelps – the holder of the maximum gold medals at a single Games. Never before had a female athlete won more than four gold medals at a single Games. At Seoul 1988, Otto took part in six events and won all of them with the utmost ease.

Born in Leipzig, Otto was drafted into a specialised sports school when she was around 11 and made steady strides before becoming part of the East German world record-breaking quartet in the 400m medley relay at the 1982 world championships. Two years later, she was supposed to make it big in Los Angeles before the boycott of the Games by the East European bloc countries spoiled her intended party. Later that year, as ill-luck would have it, she injured a vertebra, which forced her to remain in a neck brace through the next nine months.

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The medical team attending her was insistent of Otto giving up the sport, but the iron lady would have none of it and was back in the pool almost the same moment she was allowed to take the plunge. At the 1986 worlds, the steely determination in her brought Otto four golds in a bag of six. The next year’s European championships saw almost a repeat, with five gold medals, after she opted out of the 50m freestyle.

Seoul marked the confirmation of Otto as the top swimmer in her section as she celebrated success through three different strokes, competing in the 50m, the 100m freestyle, the 100m backstroke and the 100m butterfly, beside the two relays, to accomplish one of the most historic achievements of the Games.

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Meanwhile, the overwhelming domination of the East German women swimmers at every level starting from 1973 and continuing into the late 1980s had fuelled speculation about the team being under a systematic doping programme. When Otto achieved what was once thought to be impossible, the buzz only got louder.

It is only true that some skeletons did emerge after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, but none to pin on Otto, who was the most tested athlete during her peak.