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Top 10 athletes to have won the most medals at the Olympics

Published at :July 21, 2021 at 10:21 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : AP/Carltremblay/Pinterest)

Khel Now

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

These athletes have etched their names in the history books forever.

Being crowned as one of the top three athletes in the world in a sport even once is a huge achievement. To stand on the podium, multiple times at the Olympics is a heroic act in itself.

There have been some athletes, who never rested on their laurel and kept on grinding to achieve more success in the quadrennial event.

Here is a list of the top 10 athletes with the most medals in the history of the Olympics.

10. Jenny Thompson -12 (USA)

Jenny Thompson’s place would have been very high in this list, had she met the expectations on her in the 1992 Olympics. She won two gold and a silver medal in Barcelona but was considered to be a favourite for at least five gold medals.

Thompson performed wonderfully at the Olympics (Photo Credit: USOPM)

Success in the individual events continued to elude the American in both Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000). She won three gold medals each in both editions but all six were in relay events.

She won a bronze in the 100m freestyle in Sydney Olympics before finishing with two more silver medals, both coming in relay events in Athens 2004. Her twelve Olympic medals are the most for any female swimmer in thge history of the Olympics.

9. Sawao Kato -12 (Japan)

Part of the tail-end of the golden Japanese gymnastics era, Kato is the second most decorated Olympian from Japan after Takashi Ono. Kato started his Olympic career by winning three gold medals and a bronze in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He continued his dominance in Munich (1972), where Japan won 15 of the 21 individual medals in gymnastics.

Kato won five of those 21, winning gold in the team, all-around and parallel bars events. He had to settle for the silver in pommel horse and horizontal bar disciplines. The Japanese gymnast won three more medals in the Montreal edition. He won gold in team and parallel bars but had to settle for silver in the all-around event. Kato remains one of 10 Olympians to have won eight or more gold medals at the Olympics.

8. Birgit Fischer -12 (Germany)

Fischer is considered a legend in kayaking (Photo Credit: Marca)

In terms of sustaining a long prime in the sports career, Birgit Fischer is one of the best in the world. The German kayaker has won 12 medals in her Olympic career. But what makes her achievement extraordinary is that she did it across six Olympics from 1980 to 2004. Her domination transcended her age. She became both the youngest and oldest ever Olympic canoeing champion (18 years and 42 years respectively).

Birgit won her first gold in the k-1 500m event in Moscow in 1980, representing East Germany. She failed to participate in the 1984 event due to the Soviet boycott. She came back even stronger in Seoul, winning gold in two events while claiming silver in another.

After the unification of Germany, Fischer's domination in the canoe events continued. She won five more gold medals, including three straight (1996-2004) in the k-4 500m event. She also won three more silver medals during this time to bring her total to 12 Olympic medals.

7. Paavo Nurmi -12 (Finland)

The Flying Finn was one of the strongest athletes during the early editions. Nurmi made his debut at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920 and quickly went to work by winning his first medal in his debut event, the 5000m. He went on to win three gold medals in the 10000m, the individual cross-country race and the team cross country race.

Nurmi brought an analytical approach to his running, which helped him to further success in Paris, where he won both the 1500m and the 5000m within the span of two hours. He then reclaimed his gold in both the individual and team cross-country races, before winning the 3000m team steeplechase event as well.

In the Amsterdam edition, Nurmi managed to race in his favourite event, the 10000m and claim the gold. He had to settle for silver in the 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase. Nurmi remains the most decorated Finnish athlete in the Olympics till date.

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6. Takashi Ono -13 (Japan)

The most decorated Japanese Olympian was a spectacle to witness. Takashi Ono won 13 medals across four editions, fiercely competing with Soviet Union gymnast Boris Shakhlin in the process. His first medal came in Helsinki Olympics (1952) when he won a bronze in the vault event. He won his first gold four years later in Melbourne for the Horizontal bar while also winning three silver medals and a bronze.

Ono stole the show in Rome where he won six medals, including three gold for horizontal bar, team all-around and the vault, the latter of which was shared with his Soviet rival Boris. He finished his career at 1964 Tokyo Olympics, winning the gold in the team event.

5. Edoardo Mangiarotti -13 (Italy)

Mangiarotti won a total of 13 medals in the Olympics (Photo Credit: Art Photo Limited)

One of the all-time fencing greats, Mangiarotti deserves his spot amongst the Olympic greats. Across five editions of the Olympics, Mangiarotti found himself on the podium a record 13 times. The Italian’s first medal was a gold in the team epee event. He won three more gold medals in the team epee event from 1952- 1960 while winning an individual epee gold in Helsinki in 1952 and a team foil gold in Melbourne four years later.

He landed two silver medals and a bronze in London in 1948 to add to his gold in 1936 before nabbing two more silver medals in Helsinki. In Melbourne, he won bronze to add to his two gold medals before finishing his Olympic career in Rome with a gold and silver respectively. He had six gold, five silver and two bronze medals in a storied 24-year-long illustrious career.

4. Boris Shakhlin -13 (Soviet Union)

While Larisa was tearing it up for the Soviet Union in the women’s gymnastics events, Boris was doing the same in the men’s section. Fiercely competing against Japanese star Takashi Ono, Boris notched seven gold medals in Olympics between 1956-1964, including four first place finish in 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

His first Olympics in Melbourne saw him win two gold medals in the team event and the pommel horse. He followed that with four gold medals in Rome along with two silver and a bronze medal. His Olympic career ended in Tokyo 1964 when he won gold for horizontal bars, two silver medals for team competition and individual all-around discipline and a bronze for rings.

3. Nikolai Andrianov -15 (Soviet Union)

After Boris and Larisa ruled the floor for the Soviet Union in gymnastics, came the era of Nikolai Andrianov. The Soviet gymnast won his first Olympic gold in the floor exercise event in the Munich Olympics. He won a silver in the team competition and won the bronze in the vault event.

He absolutely knackered the competition four years later in Montreal. Nikolai won four gold medals in individual events. He also won two silver medals, one of which came in the team competition and a bronze in the pommel horse discipline. 1980 was another successful Olympics for the gymnast, winning two gold, two silver and a bronze medal.

His total tally after the Moscow Olympics was seven gold, five silver and three bronze medals, becoming the second most decorated Olympian then behind compatriot Larisa Latynina.

2. Larisa Latynina – 18 (Soviet Union)

Latynina holds the record for the most medals won by a female athlete in Olympics (Photo Credit: Olympics)

Before Michael Phelps, Olympics’ most dominant competitor came from the Soviet Union in the form of Larisa Latynina. In almost every Gymnastic event in the Olympics from 1956  to 1964, Larisa found herself on the podium. She made her debut at the age of 21 in the Melbourne Olympics and started strong by winning the gold in the all-around event. She would go on to win three more events in Australia while finishing second and third in two more events.

Larisa’s gold tally reduced to three in Rome but she still found herself on the podium three more times, winning silver medals in uneven bars and balance beam and bronze in the vault discipline. She won six more medals in the Tokyo Olympics (1964), clinching gold medals in both team and floor exercises. She also won two silver and two bronze medals to bring her tally to 18 medals. This tally remained unchallenged for 48 years. She holds the record for the most medals won by a female athlete as well.

1. Michael Phelps -28 (USA)

Michael Phelps is so far ahead of the chasing pack that he leads this category even while just accounting for his gold medals (23). The dominant American had set the pool on fire since making his Olympic debut in Athens in 2004. He won eight medals in Athens, out of which six were gold and two were bronze.

In Beijing, all eight medals turned out to be gold. He won six medals each in London and Rio. Phelps won four gold medals in the London Olympics and five gold medals in Rio. The remaining three were silver.

He has also been a dominant force in his pet event, the 200m medley. The American won four gold medals in the 200m medley, during all the four Olympics he has competed in.

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