Olympics records: Male and female athletes with most Olympic gold medals

Tokyo Olympics: Ahead of the 2020 edition of the Summer Games, Sportstar takes a look at the most prolific male and female sportspersons to win gold at the showpiece event.

Michael Phelps, Larisa Latynina and Usain Bolt have dominated their respective sports at the Olympics by striking more gold medals than their peers.   -  GETTY IMAGES

After a year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics will finally get underway from July 23. The Olympics has always been the pinnacle of sporting excellence, where some athletes attain immortal fame while a few are kept from greatness only by tantalising milliseconds and inches.

Sportstar takes a look at the top male and female athletes who have won the most gold medals in the Olympics over its 31 editions since 1896.

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Men

Michael Phelps,  aquatics (USA, 2004-2016)

America’s Michael Phelps, arguably the most dominant athlete in Olympics history, smashed records with an undisputed 23 gold medals from four Olympic Games.

Phelps’ record-spree began in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he won six gold medals. He went on to add a record eight in 2008 (Beijing) and four in 2012 (London) before bidding farewell to the sport at the Rio Olympics in 2016 while winning five more golds.

Carl Lewis, athletics (USA, 1984-1996)

American sprint sensation Carl Lewis dominated three of the Olympic track and field events - the 100m sprint, 200m sprint and the long jump - over a 17-year career.

In four Olympic Games, Lewis won nine Olympic golds - the joint-most in athletics. Lewis finished his first Games (1984, Los Angeles) with four golds (100m, 200m, 4*100m relay, long jump) and added two each (100m, long jump) in 1988 (Seoul) and the 1992 Barcelona Games (long jump, 4*100m relay).

In his final Olympic appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Lewis added a record fourth consecutive long jump gold to raise his final gold tally to nine.

American sprint sensation Carl Lewis dominated three of the showpiece Olympic track and field events - the 100m sprint, 200m sprint and the long jump - over a 17-year career.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

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Paavo Nurmi, athletics (FIN, 1920-1928)

Finland’s Paavo Nurmi dominated the early years of Olympics athletics with nine gold medals across three appearances. The middle and long-distance champion won three golds (10,000m, individual cross country, team cross country) in his first Games at Antwerp in 1920.

"The Flying Finn" added five golds in his next appearance at the 1924 Paris Games, winning in the 1500m, 5000m, individual cross country, team cross country and 3000m team events. Nurmi’s final Games - the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics - saw him add another gold in the 10,000m to raise his tally to nine gold medals, well ahead of his peers.

Mark Spitz, aquatics (USA, 1968-1972)

American swimming stalwart Mark Spitz dominated the Olympics pool with a sensational nine gold medals in just two appearances.

Mark, the “Pool Shark”, made his Olympics debut in the 1968 Mexico Games at the age of 18 and won two golds in the 4*100m and 4*200m relay events. A record-breaking 1972 Munich Olympics saw Spitz rack up seven gold medals - a record that stood until his countryman Michael Phelps surpassed it with eight golds in 2008.

1972: Mark Spitz of the USA in action at the 1972 Olympics Games in Munich, Germany. Spitz achieved medal winning fame at these Munich Games where he won seven golds, the highest any Olympic Competitor had won for any sport at single Games at the time.   -  Getty Images

 

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Usain Bolt, athletics (JAM, 2004-2016)

Jamaica’s sprint legend Usain Bolt - the fastest man ever on the planet - lit up the Olympic stage with eight medals across four appearances.

After failing to impress in the 2004 Athens Games, Bolt returned to the spotlight in Beijing four years later to snatch the gold in 100m and 200m with world record times. Bolt retained the medals in London (2012) while adding a third with a 4*100m relay gold.

Bolt ended his prolific Olympics career on a high in Rio in 2016, emulating his 2012 medal tally with three golds (100m, 200m, 4*100m relay). He also became the only athlete to win the 100, 200m sprint double in three consecutive Games.

After failing to impress in the 2004 Athens Games, Bolt returned to the spotlight in Beijing four years later to snatch the gold in 100m and 200m with world record times.   -  REUTERS

 

Other men to win eight gold medals: Mathews Biondi (USA, aquatics, 1984-1992); Ray Ewry (USA, athletics, 1900-1908), Sawao Kato (JPN, gymnastics, 1968-1976)

 

Women

Larisa Latynina, gymnastics (URS, 1956-1964)

The most decorated female Olympic athlete of all time, Larisa Latynina, spearheaded Soviet Union’s rise at the Games with 18 medals in gymnastics, nine of which were gold.

In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 21-year-old Latynina won four golds in the team, all-around, vault and floor exercise events. Latynina retained three of these medals at the 1960 Rome Games but missed out on the vault. In her final Olympics appearance in 1964 at Tokyo, Latynina added two golds to her tally to become the first and only gymnast to win nine Olympic golds to date.

Larisa Latynina is the most decorated female Olympic athlete of all time. PHOTO: THE HINDU ARCHIVES   -  The Hindu

 

Birgit Fischer, canoe (GDR-GER, 1980-2004)

German kayaker Birgit Fischer’s longevity saw her take part in six Olympic tournaments in the women’s canoe sprint.

From 1980 to 2004, Fischer bagged six gold medals on her way to becoming the youngest (18) and the oldest-ever (42) to win gold in canoeing at the Olympics.

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Jenny Thompson, aquatics (USA, 1992-2004)

America’s Jenny Thompson notched up 12 medals in her Olympic career- eight of them were gold.

Despite the disappointment of not winning a single individual gold in swimming, Jenny evolved to become the perfect addition to the US squad in team events across four Olympics from 1992 to 2004. Thomson won two golds (4*100m medley and freestyle) in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and helped the side retain the double gold in the 1996 Atlanta Games besides winning a 4*200m freestyle gold.

In the 2000 Sydney Games, Thompson was instrumental in the US retaining all three titles once again ( 4×100-meter medley, freestyle and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay). Thompson failed to add another gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics but ended her illustrious career with eight golds, three silvers and a bronze.

U.S. swimmer Jenny Thompson notched up 12 medals in her Olympic career- eight of them were gold. PHOTO: THE HINDU ARCHIVES   -  The Hindu

 

Vera Caslavska, gymnastics (TCH, 1960-68)

Artistic gymnast Vera Caslavska lit up the Czechoslovakian dream at successive Olympic tournaments in 1964 and 1968 with a riveting display after settling for a host of silvers in 1960.

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Caslavska won the All-round gold while also clinching the Vault and Balance Beam titles. Four years later, in Mexico, Caslavska retained the Vault gold while also bagging the top honours in Uneven Bars and Floor Exercise. Caslavska topped her performance with a successive All-Round gold to become one of two gymnasts to clinch the medal in consecutive Games. Caslavska continues to be Czech’s most prolific medal-winning gymnast at the Olympics.

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Kristin Otto, aquatics (GDR, 1988)

After missing out on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics due to a ban on her native East Germany, Kristin Otto returned to the grand stage in 1988 in spectacular fashion.

Otto’s only Games in Seoul saw her clinch six gold medals in 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 4*100 freestyle and medley races. The then 22-year-old became the first woman ever to amass six gold medals in a single Olympic tournament.

Other women to win six gold medals: Amy Van Dyken (USA, aquatics, 1996-2000); Valentina Vezzali (ITA, fencing, 1996-2012), Isabelle Werth (GER, equestrian, 2000-2016), Allyson Felix (USA, athletics, 2004-2016)
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