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 labeled 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. Hi is the most decorated athlete, but is he the greatest?
Phelps is also on everyone's mind as he competed in the most recent Olympic games, there are many greats that are not in our recent memory. 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 only criteria for the greatest Olympian. Here are some other factors which should be considered:
- The most gold medals
- The most total medals
- The win percentage (medals divided by attempts)
- The number of medals available in their sport.
- The number of medals from individual events
- the number of different events the athlete attempted
- The number of Olympics competed in
- The athlete who was the most dominant
- The athlete who overcame adversity
- The athlete who broke records
- the athlete who best shows the Olympic spirit, humility and sportmanship.
Here my suggestions of the Olympians who should be considered as the greatest (no particular order).
- Michael Phelps — swimmer, most Olympic medals.
- Jesse Owens — ground breaking sprinter who competed at the Olympics just once, in 1936. He won 4 gold 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.
- 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.
- Jim Thorpe — all rounder in track and field.
- Paavo Nurmi — Finnish middle-distance runner from the 1920s, winner of 12 medals in track and field (9 of them gold).
- Nadia Comaneci — gymnast mostly known for achieving perfect 10s. She won nine Olympic medals in her two Games in 1976 and 1980.
- 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.
- Bjorn Daehlie — cross-country skier from Norway, the most successful Winter Olympian of all time with 12 Olympic medals in in the '90s.
Greatest Olympian Lists
- Calculation to determine The Greatest Olympian Ever as determined by several criteria, with standing jumper Ray Ewry from early last century leading the list.
- The Most Dominant Olympian of All Time after factoring in individual event medals and medal winning opportunities was also standing jumper Ray Ewry.
- The Greatest Olympian of All Time as voted by Canadians - winner was Clara Hughes. 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.
- 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 with a clear lead from Steve Redgrave and Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis.
- ESPN Sport Science poll of the Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time, voting based on athletics abilities. The winner again was Michael Phelps with 82% of the votes.
- Top Olympic Medal Winners - two lists, ranking athletes by the most number of medals, and also by total gold medals won. Michael Phelps leads both lists.
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?
- more about the Olympics
- all time greatest index of sports