Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time
Search online for the greatest Olympian of all time and undoubtedly the answer will predominantly be swimmer Michael Phelps. He has been labelled the greatest ever Olympian due to his record number of gold medals won, but medal count should not be the only criteria for determining the greatest ever Olympian. He is also on everyone's mind as he competed in the most recent Olympic games.
However, the Olympic Games has showcased some great athletes over a long time period, from a large range of international sports. A close look at the facts and figures of all Olympians will throw up many other athletes that should also be considered for the title of the Greatest Olympian.
The number of medals should not be the main criteria for the greatest Olympian. In some sports there are not many medals available. Also, some weight should be given to the athlete who best shows the Olympic spirit, humility and sportmanship. Here are some of the Olympians who should be considered as the greatest.
- Michael Phelps — swimmer, most Olympic medals.
- Carl Lewis — US track and field star from the '80s and '90s. He won 10 Olympic medals for the U.S., nine of them gold, in the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump in the '80s and '90s. The International Olympic Committee named him "Sportsman of the Century," and Sports Illustrated called him "Olympian of the Century."
- Steve Redgrave — five straight golds in rowing: 1984, 88, 92, 96 & 2000.
- Paavo Nurmi — Finnish middle-distance runner from the 1920s, winner of 12 medals in track and field (9 of them gold).
- Mark Spitz — 9 gold medals in swimming, as well as a silver and a bronze. He set world records in every event he competed in Munich, then retired from swimming at age 22.
- Larissa Latynina — Soviet gymnast from the 1950s and '60s. She won 18 medals, 14 of these in individual competition.
- Jesse Owens — ground breaking sprinter who competed at the Olympics just once, in 1936. He won 4 gold medals.
- Jim Thorpe — all rounder in track and field.
- Nadia Comaneci — gymnast mostly known for achieving perfect 10s. She won nine Olympic medals in her two Games in 1976 and 1980.
- Bjorn Daehlie — cross-country skier from Norway, the most successful Winter Olympian of all time with 12 Olympic medals in in the '90s.
- Clara Hughes — is the only person to have won multiple Olympic medals in both the Winter (speed skating) and Summer Games (cycling).
- Birgit Fischer — won 12 Olympic canoeing medals between 1980 and 2004. She is both the youngest (18) and oldest (42) Olympic canoeing champion.
- Emil Zatopek — a Czech long distance runner. He won the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon in 1952, including breaking the Olympic record in all three events despite it being his first ever marathon.
- The International Olympic Committee named Carl Lewis "Sportsman of the Century," in November 1999.
- See our poll on Who is the Greatest Olympian (Summer) of All Time? which has Phelps currently leading.
- A poll on the CBC Community website in Aug 2012 has the greatest Olympian of all time Canadian speed skater and cyclist Clara Hughes with 34% of the vote.
Greatest Olympic Athlete?
In a slightly different twist, a poll on ESPN Sport Science conducted in 2012 looked at the Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time. The voting was based on the best athlete (not player) who has a combination of strength, speed, endurance, quickness, durability and the other attributes that make an athlete elite. In the first round, Michael Phelps easily won the voting.
- Poll: Who is the Greatest Olympian (Summer) of All Time?
- ESPN Sport Science poll of the Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time
- more about the Olympics
- all time greatest index of sports