Every four years, the world comes together to watch athletes compete in either summer or winter sports competitions. Many athletes aspire and dream about the Olympics, few make it. But for those few, they are the top of their sport and arguably some of the best athletes of all time. Over the last 29 Olympics, there have been more than 12,000 medals handed out and this top 10 list is just a paltry sum when compared to the overall total. However, these Top 10 Olympians represent the crème of the crop winning the most gold medals. For this list, ties are broken by most silver after gold and then most bronze.
10. Matt Biondi
Considering that the Americans have won one-third of all swimming medals in the modern Olympics, it is no wonder that Matt Biondi leads a list of four American swimmers among the Top 10 Olympian champions. Biondi also tops the list of five American Olympians – the Americans have also won roughly a quarter of all Olympic medals in the current games. Biondi competed in three Olympics where like our No. 1 Olympian he dominated the freestyle category. His record: eight gold, two silver and one bronze in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics.
9. Jenny Thompson
This American swimmer tied with Sawao Kato for our No. 8 position. Jenny Thompson, a freestyle and butterfly swimmer, racked up an impressive medal count over four Olympics making her the most decorated female American Olympic swimmer. Her record: eight gold, three silver and one bronze in the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
8. Sawao Kato
Sawao Kato is the most successful Japanese and most successful Olympic gymnast of all time. While competing for Japan, he helped lead his team to three team competition titles and was a two-time all-around champion and two-time parallel bars gold medallist. His record: eight gold, three silver and one bronze in the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
7. Birgit Fischer
Our No. 6 position is tied between this German canoeist and Bjørn Dæhlie. However, Birgit Fischer is the only Olympian on this list to have competed in six Olympics. Fischer began her career as the youngest canoeing medallist in Olympic history representing East Germany and ended her career as the oldest canoeing medallist representing the unified Germany. Her record: eight gold and four silver in the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2004 Olympics.
6. Bjørn Dæhlie
This Norseman, thought to be the greatest cross-country skier of all time, is the only winter Olympian on the list. Bjørn Dæhlie competed in three Olympics and is the most decorated winter Olympian of all time. Considered a cultural icon in Norway, Dæhlie originally wanted to play football, though one has to wonder if he would have made Norway’s Olympic soccer team. His record: eight gold and four silver in the 1992, 1996 and 1998 Olympics.
5. Carl Lewis
Thought to be one of the greatest American athletes of all time, Carl Lewis competed in four Olympics though he qualified for a fifth at the boycotted 1980 Olympics. Like many of the Olympians on this list, Lewis competed in a number of competitions including racing and long jump. And in his first Olympic performance, he handily tied Jesse Owens record of four gold in the Athletics, or track and field, competition. Lewis would go on to continue winning medals in three more Olympics. His record: nine gold and one silver in the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
4. Mark Spitz
Mark Spitz was named as the World Swimmer of the year in 1969, 1971 and 1972 after having competed in two Olympics. The Californian holds the record for most golds won in a single Olympics with seven – a record which our No. 1 Olympian is currently trying to break. However, in his own defense, Spitz recently said that if the Olympics had featured a 50m freestyle race when he was competing he would have won eight as well. His record: nine gold, one silver and one bronze in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.
3. Paavo Nurmi
One of the Flying Finns, Paavo Nurmi was considered to be the best long distance and middle distance runner of the time in the 1920s. The runner from Finland competed in three Olympics from 1920-1928 but was unable to compete in 1932 due to having turned professional. His record: nine gold and three silver in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympics.
2. Larissa Latynina
This female gymnast from the Ukraine in the former Soviet Socialist Republic has the highest total of medals earned in Olympics history with 18 medals. Larissa Latynina is the only woman to have won nine golds and she did that in only three Olympics. Not only did she help the USSR win team competitions but she also took home many medals in individual events. Her record: nine gold, five silver and four bronze in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics.
1. Michael Phelps
Where do you begin with the American phenom known as the Baltimore Bullet? Michael Phelps, in only his third Olympics in Beijing 2008, has smashed the record for most gold medals awarded to one Olympian by two with three races to go. He has broken 30 world records in swimming and has tied for the most medals won (eight) at an Olympics once already at Athens four years ago. By the end of the summer 2008 Olympics he could very well do that again but with eight gold smashing Spitz’s record of seven gold in one Olympics. If he follows suit with most swimmers this would be his last Olympics, though he has one more record to beat, most Olympic medals held by No. 2 Latynina. His record – so far: 11 gold and two bronze medals from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.