The Olympics stands for dreams. Every athlete in the world, dreams about an Olympic medal. It starts off with just a medal and slowly, the hunger grows with success. One medal is never enough. A bronze medal is just a ‘starting point’. What they really dream of is a cabinet full of Olympic gold’s. We aren’t just talking about athletes who have won just a couple of medals here. We are talking about those athletes that have dominated the sport for years. To them, their only competitor is just them, nobody else.
The legacy associated with the Olympics goes back centuries, not years. Officially, however, the Olympic games that we know today began in the year 1896. Since then, every time this sporting spectacle takes place, it leaves everyone watching, with mixed emotions. Some people experience jubilance, while others experience heartbreak.
In this article, we will be taking you through the 11 most successful athletes who have been responsible for both invoking these emotions in people and above all, who have assumed the title of legends.
Checkout the top 11 Highest Paid & Successful Olympic Athletes of all time
11. Teofilo Stevenson (Cuba)
Cuba have always done well in one sports, always, and that’s boxing. But what Teofilo Stevenson did during his nearly 15 year long boxing career, is considered to be one of the greatest feats by a boxer in the history of Olympics. He is just one of three boxers ever to have won three Olympic golds in boxing. Well, to be frank, gold was almost all that he ever won. Baring just one Pan American Game, in his entire boxing career, in which he secured the bronze medal, he always won the gold medal. It was in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980), when he won three gold medals in the Heavyweight division in boxing.
10. Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA)
Flo-Jo, the fastest woman to have ever competed on earth. The 100m and 200m records that she set, way back in the year 1988 and are yet to be broken. A lot of women have tried to do what she did that year in Seoul but they just haven’t been able to do it. The USA track-runner died prematurely at the age of 38, in her sleep. To be true, her records speak for themselves and her inclusion in the list of the all-time Olympic greats needs absolutely no justification.
9. Nadia Comaneci (Romania)
When people say, ‘age has no barriers’ the example they should be giving is that of Nadia Comaneci’s. What she did at the tender age of 14, is absolutely phenomenal. She was the first woman athlete to receive a score of perfect 10.0 in gymnastics. It was unfortunate that this six-time Olympic gold winner had to retire after just two appearances in the Olympics at a tender, very tender age of twenty-three. Her relationship with the sport however, did not end there. She continued to popularise the sport around the world and truly became a role-model for a lot of young gymnasts, both male and female.
8. Jackie-Joyner Kersee (USA)
Jackie-Joyner Kersee is considered to be one of the greatest female Olympians of all time. She represented her country, the USA, in heptathlon and long jump, in four successive Olympics right from Seoul in 1988 till Atlanta in 1996. During this period, she collected quite a collection of medals. In total, she won three Olympic golds, one Olympic silver and two Olympic Bronze medals. Her road to success, however, wasn’t easy. For an athlete, asthma is no joke. She overcame this adversity, with grit and determination and did not let this affect her performances ever.
7. Paavo Nurmi (Finland)
Long-distance running requires intense dedication, skill and technique all of which the Flying Finn mastered. He was practically unbeatable during his time. In Antwerp (1920), Paris (1924) and Amsterdam (1928) he represented Finland in twelve events in the mid and long-distance running category. He won nine golds and three silvers across these events. What’s more, he didn’t just win races, he destroyed world records side-by-side. In the 1500 m and 20,000m category, he set 22 official world records! Any reason as to why he shouldn’t be considered as one of the greatest Olympians ever?
6. Mark Spitz (USA)
The USA has had its fair share of Olympic swimmers. In fact, if you look at the records that were held by Mark Spitz during his time, it looks like Michael Phelps picked up where he left off. His best performance was by no doubt at the Munich Olympics of 1972, where he won seven gold medals. During his entire career, in which he participated in two Olympics (1968 and 1972) he won nine Olympic golds, one silver and one bronze. He is only the third athlete in the history of Olympics to have won nine-gold medals.
5. Carl Lewis (USA)
Like Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis too, has nine-Olympic golds to his credit. Apart from that, the extremely quick and talented track-runner has a couple of other records, too, to his name. For example, he is just one of three Olympians to have won a gold medal in an event in four successive Olympics. The man set world records everywhere. As a long-jumper he has the longest unbeaten streak, winning 65 events in a row! While he was doing this, he was breaking world records in the 100m category too. All of this he did in a span of 17 years. After retirement in 1996, he moved on. Who was to guess that, one day, Carl Lewis would be part of the cast in a couple of Hollywood movies.
4. Usain Bolt (Jamaica)
Everyone loves celebrations. Everyone loves showmanship. Who does that remind you of? Yup, Usain Bolt. Since he arrived on the track-events scene, he has been pretty much untouchable. He is the holder of both the: 100m and 200m world records, a feat that hasn’t been emulated by anyone since the adoption of automatic timing. There’s another record which only he can boast of. In the last three Olympics, 2008, 2012 and 2016, he has won the gold medal in both, 100m and 200m sprint events, the only person to have ever accomplished such a feat. Gold medals, in two events in three successive Olympics. One more gold medal and he becomes part of that illustrious club of ‘nine-time gold medalists’, currently he has eight. But with his dominance, there will be no surprises if he makes eight into eleven at Tokyo, 2020.
3. Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union)
According to many experts, Larisa Latynina is not only the greatest gymnast in the history of Olympics but the greatest Olympian, all time. For a long time, she held the record of the most number of individual Olympic medals won by any athlete. This total was eighteen, out of which nine were golds, the highest number of gold medals for any gymnast to have ever won. She accomplished all of this in three Olympics (1956, 1960 and 1964).
2. Michael Phelps (USA)
Michael Phelps at the number two spot will raise many eyebrows, no doubt. But to be fair, all the athletes mentioned in this list are legends and they are all separated by very fine margins. Coming back to Phelps. Well, look at any medal tally record and the name at the top of the list is going to be Michael Phelps. He has dominated the Olympics, not just swimming but the Olympics. It’s he, who is responsible for breaking Larisa Latynina’s record of ‘ Most medals won in an individual event’. She won eighteen, while he won twenty-eight. This is a record, that’s perhaps never going to be broken. One can write an article on just the records that he holds, such has been the dominance of this truly extraordinary athlete.
1. Jesse Owens (USA)
Jesse Owens didn’t win too many medals. Infact, to be precise, he won just four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. But what makes him the greatest Olympian of all time is the impact he had on not just sports, on the world. During the phase where Aryan supremacy was heralded, he shattered all of that by being a ‘black-man’, who was the most successful athlete in Berlin. Within an hour, he broke three world records and tied one. His efforts left a mark on the history of sports and racial discrimination, something that embodies greatness more than medals.
All of these athletes had commitment. Without commitment, an athlete cannot achieve anything at all. So if you are an athlete, the first step to greatness is commitment. Set your priorities accordingly, reap the benefits that follow!