The Best Olympic Athletes From Each Sport

There is plenty of evidence that multiple gold medal winning swimmer Michael Phelps is the most successful Olympic Games athlete of all time, from all sports. However, because sports such as swimming, gymnastics and athletics have many events and therefore many medals available to win, athletes from these sports have an advantage when counting total medals won. This is particularly true if you compare athletes from those sports to team sports such as football, handball and hockey where there is only one of each medal available at each Olympiad.

Not taking anything away from the very successful athletes such as Phelps, Nurmi and Latynina, there is an unfair advantage to athletes from the sports which have many more medals available. The very talented and maybe just as great athletes from other sports may be missing out of just accolades. Therefore we have compared only athletes from within each sport, to get a list of the greatest Olympian of all time from each sport.

We have ranked the athletes from each sport including results from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. To determine the top ranked athlete from each sport, we have used the Topend Sports Weighted Ranking System to order the athletes, as this appears to give fair credit for winning both gold medals and the minor placings.

Top Olympic Athlete From Each Sport

Here are the top ranked athletes from each Olympic sport (including results from 2021). Both current and past sports are listed, though of the past sports only included are those that have been present for at least three Olympiads. Golf is not yet listed as there are no multiple medalists.

Table: The Top Ranked Athletes from Each Olympic Sport (current sports)

Sport Athlete Country Gold Silver Bronze total
medals
Archery Hubert Van Innis Belgium 6 3 0 9
Athletics Paavo Nurmi Finland 9 3 0 12
Badminton Gao Ling China 2 1 1 4
Basketball Sue Bird USA 5 0 0 5
Diana Taurasi USA 5 0 0 5
Boxing László Papp Hungary 3 0 0 3
Félix Savón Cuba 3 0 0 3
Teófilo Stevenson Cuba 3 0 0 3
Canoeing Birgit Fischer Germany 8 4 0 12
Cycling Jason Kenny Great Britain 7 2 0 9
Diving Wu Minxia China 5 1 1 7
Equestrian Isabell Werth Germany 7 5 0 12
Fencing Edoardo Mangiarotti Italy 6 5 2 13
Field Hockey Leslie Claudius &
Udham Singh
India 3 1 0 4
Lidewij Welten & Eva de Goede The Netherlands 3 1 0 4
Football Christie Rampone USA 3 1 0 4
Gymnastics Larisa Latynina USSR 9 5 4 18
Handball Michaël Guigou, Nikola Karabatic and Luc Abalo France 3 1 0 4
Judo Teddy Riner France 3 0 2 5
Modern Pentathlon András Balczó Hungary 3 2 0 5
Rowing Elisabeta Lipă Romania 5 2 1 8
Rugby Jerry Tuwai Fiji 2 0 0 2
Sailing Ben Ainslie Great Britain 4 1 0 5
Shooting Carl Osburn USA 5 4 2 11
Swimming Michael Phelps USA 23 3 2 28
Synchronized Swimming Svetlana Romashina Russia 7 0 0 7
Table Tennis Ma Long China 5 0 0 5
Taekwondo Steven López USA 2 0 1 3
Hwang Kyung-Seon South Korea 2 0 1 3
Hadi Saei Iran 2 0 1 3
Tennis Venus Williams USA 4 1 0 5
Triathlon Alistair Brownlee Great Britain 2 0 0 2
Volleyball (beach) Kerri Walsh USA 3 0 1 4
Volleyball (indoor) Ana Fernández + 5 others Cuba 3 0 0 3
Water polo Dezső Gyarmati Hungary 3 1 1 5
Weight lifting Pyrros Dimas Greece 3 0 1 4
Wrestling Kaori Icho Japan 4 0 0 4
Mijaín López Cuba 4 0 0 4

Table: The Top Ranked Athletes from Each Olympic Sport (past sports)

Only past sports included are those that have been present for at least three Olympiads.

Sport Athlete Country Gold Silver Bronze total
medals
Baseball Pedro Luis Lazo Cuba 2 2 0 4
Polo John Wodehouse UK 1 1 0 2
Softball Laura Berg USA 3 1 0 4
Tug of War Frederick Humphreys, Edwin Mills &
John Shepherd
Great Britain 2 1 0 3

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