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Most Olympic gold medals: Who joins Phelps on all-time list?

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Michael Phelps of the U.S. poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 4, 2012

Image credit: Reuters

ByEurosport
30/03/2020 at 10:51 | Updated 30/03/2020 at 11:51

Michael Phelps is the most successful Olympian of all time, but who else has won eight or more golds at the Summer Games?

1. Michael Phelps (United States) – Swimming – 23 gold medals

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Michael Phelps of the U.S. celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men's 100m butterfly final during the London 2012 Olympic Games (Reuters)

Image credit: Reuters

The most decorated Olympian of all time – by some distance. Phelps’ 23 gold medals, plus three silver and two bronze, came across four Olympic Games from Athens 2004 to Rio 2016. The American’s standout Games was Beijing 2008, where he won a staggering eight golds, breaking Mark Spitz’s record for the most victories at a single Olympics in the process. Of his 23 golds, 13 were in individual events, with the other 10 in relays, while the 200m medley stands out as the discipline where he won gold at all four Olympics. Arguably the greatest threat to Phelps’ all-time record will be the emergence of another swimmer, but the longevity and superiority required means it could be decades before someone goes close.

2. Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union) – Gymnastics – nine gold medals

Larisa Latynina

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Latynina was 21 when she won four gold medals at Melbourne 1956, and it was an era where she – along with Boris Shakhlin and Viktor Chukarin – ensured Soviet Union was viewed as the powerhouse in gymnastics. A further three golds followed for Latynina at Rome 1960, and she cemented her status as the most successful Olympic gymnast when adding two more golds at Tokyo 1964. No gymnast, male or female, has won more Olympic titles, while her tally of 18 medals overall was not toppled until Phelps came along.

3. Paavo Nurmi (Finland) – Athletics – nine gold medals

Paavo Nurmi

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To say the Flying Finn was a dominant distance runner would be putting it mildly. Nurmi won gold in the 10,000m, individual and team cross country at Antwerp 1920, then gold in the 1,500m, 5,000m, individual and team cross country, and 3000m team at Paris 1924. To cap it off, he won the 10,000m again at Amsterdam 1928, picking up three silvers along the way. He broke 20 official world records in the process, and was the holder of the mile, 5,000m and 10,000m records at the same time. As if that wasn’t enough, he won 121 races in a row during his pomp from 800m upwards.

4. Mark Spitz (USA) – Swimming – nine gold medals

Mark Spitz

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The original king of the swimming pool won nine golds, a silver and a bronze across two Olympic Games. The first two golds came at Mexico City 1968 in freestyle relays, while it was at Munich 1972 where the American became a household name. The seven gold medals he won in Germany was a record which stood for 36 years (when Phelps won eight in Beijing), and to make that feat all the more remarkable, Spitz set a world record in all seven of the events.

5. Carl Lewis (USA) – Athletics – nine gold medals

Carl Lewis

Image credit: Getty Images

The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles was where Lewis made his name, with the American following in Jesse Owens’ footsteps when winning the 100m, 200m, 4x100m and long jump. As well as winning long jump gold at the next three Olympics, Lewis defended his 100m title at Seoul 1988 before claiming a second 4x100m gold at Barcelona 1992. A sprinting great, but ultimately a long jump legend, having gone unbeaten for more than a decade when winning 65 consecutive competitions.

6. Birgit Fischer (East Germany/Germany) – Canoeing – eight gold medals

Birgit Fischer

Image credit: Imago

A gold medallist first at 18 and then finally at 42, Fischer proved that age was no barrier at both ends of the sporting spectrum. After winning gold in the K1 500m at Moscow 1980, East Germany’s boycott of LA 1984 meant it was Seoul 1988 where Fischer won her next two gold medals in the K2 500m and K4 500m. The golds kept coming when representing Germany; she won the K1 500m at Barcelona 1992 - 12 years after her first title in that discipline – while she continued to dominate the K4 500m, winning at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 (where she also clinched K2 500m gold) and Athens 2004.

7. Sawao Kato (Japan) – Gymnastics – eight gold medals

Sawao Kato (top of the podium)

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Kato won 12 Olympic medals between 1968 and 1976, a period where Japan were a dominant force in gymnastics. As well as winning gold in the team event in Mexico City, Munich and Montreal, Kato won a further five individual golds. He was the all-around and floor champion at Mexico City 1968, the all-around and parallel bars champion at Munich 1972, while he defended his parallel bars title at Montreal 1976. He also picked up three silvers (pommel horse and horizontal bars in 1972 and all-around in 1976) and a bronze in the rings in 1968.

8. Jenny Thompson (USA) – Swimming – eight gold medals

Jenny Thompson

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Remarkably, all eight of Thompson’s gold medals came in team events, starting with the 4x100m medley and freestyle at Barcelona 1992. She won the same events at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, also swimming to glory in the 4x200m freestyle at those two Olympic Games. The closest Thompson came to individual gold was in Barcelona, where she took home silver in the 100m freestyle.

9. Matt Biondi (USA) – Swimming – eight gold medals

Matt Biondi

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After winning 4x100m gold at Los Angeles 1984, it was Seoul 1988 where Biondi racked up an impressive haul of five golds, a silver and a bronze. He broke the 50m freestyle world record in the final, and then added the 100m freestyle title before teaming up to win the 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley, all in WR times. It was in the team events where Biondi won his final two gold medals at Barcelona 1992 – in the 4x100m freestyle and medley – ensuring he would go down in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

10. Ray Ewry (USA) – Athletics – eight gold medals

Ray Ewry

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The greatest standing jumper of all time. Ewry was the boss at the now defunct disciplines, winning three golds in the standing long jump, standing high jump and standing triple jump at Paris 1900, and repeating the feat at St Louis 1904. A further two golds in the standing long and high jump at London 1908 made for a total of eight individual Olympic golds – a record which stood for a century, when (you guessed it) Phelps surpassed his fellow American in 2008.

11. Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – Athletics – eight gold medals

Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates with his gold medal during the presentation ceremony for the men's 200m (Reuters)

Image credit: Reuters

We couldn’t make this a top 10 and leave out Bolt, who burst onto the scene in a fashion that will never be repeated. In the 100m final at Beijing 2008, one of Bolt’s shoelaces was untied as he stormed to gold in world-record time, with the Jamaican slapping his chest in celebration before he even crossed the line. He went on to win 200m gold in world record time, while his 4x100m victory has since been stripped after team-mate Nesta Carter tested positive for a banned substance. That ultimately denied Bolt an unprecedented triple triple, as he went on to gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at London 2012 and Rio 2016. However, it has not diminished the sprinter’s own status. He will simply go down as one of the greatest athletes of all time, with his captivating demeanour on the track making him an icon beyond the sport he dominated.

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