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The most decorated Olympic athletes ever

Last updated on: July 17, 2012 08:56 IST

The most decorated Olympic athletes ever

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Bikash Mohapatra presents the athletes who have most gold medals to their credit in the quadrennial sporting extravaganza.

Winning an Olympic medal is an achievement in itself, the ultimate honour so to speak. If the same is yellow in colour, an athlete's place is etched into history forever.

While it is a dream of every athlete to win an Olympic medal, there are few who make a habit of winning them.

The pursuit of the medals on the sport's biggest stage has motivated athletes to strive for the best, and as such better records in the process.

Follows, a lowdown on the most-crowned athelets of the Games.

Michael Phelps (USA)

For the past eight years Michael Phelps has become synonymous with medals and records.

The American swimmer has won a total of 16 medals, 14 of them gold, in the last two Summer Olympics. While he won six gold and two bronze medals in the Athens Games in 2004, he collected eight gold medals in the pool four years later in Beijing -- the most by an athlete in a single Olympics.

The American thus holds the all-time record for most gold medals (14) at the Olympics.

With the 27-year-old scheduled to compete in seven events at the London Games expect an addition to the already enviable list. 


Image: Michael Phelps competes in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska
Photographs: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Latynina still leads the pack

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Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union)

For starters, Larisa Latynina has more Olympic medals than any other athlete in the history of the sport.

The gymnast from the erstwhile Soviet Union won a total of 18 medals, half of them gold, in a glittering career spanning three Olympics – from Melbourne in 1956 to Tokyo on 1964.

Latynina won four of her nine gold medals in her maiden Olympics appearance in Melbourne, winning the all-round title, the team gold as well as finishing first in the floor exercise and vault. Four years later in Rome, she repeated the feat in all events save the vault.

However, in Tokyo she had to be content with two gold medals only, in floor exercise and the team event.

With Michael Phelps competing in a plethora of events in London, it is just a matter of days before Latynina's record for most medals is broken. 


Image: Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina of the Ukraine in action during the women's compulsory exercises at the Tokyo Olympics
Photographs: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Nurmi's tally: Three Olympics, nine gold medals

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Paavo Nurmi (Finland)

He was the best long distance runner in the world in the 1920s.

And Paavo Nurmi has 12 Olympic medals to show for his effort. Nine of them are yellow in colour, none of them is bronze.

The Flying Finn, as he was named, competed in three Olympics -- Antwerp (1920), Paris (1924) and Amsterdam (1928). While his maiden appearance at the Belgian port city resulted in three gold medals -- in 10, 000 meters, the individual cross country and the team cross country, besides a silver in the 5,000 meters, it was in Paris four years later that Nurmi peaked.

In the French capital, the Finn won as many as five gold medals, defending his individual and team cross-country titles while also adding the 1,500 meters, 5, 000 meters and 3, 000 meters team golds to his already impressive medal tally.

At 31, he managed a solitary gold in Amsterdam -- in 10,000 meters besides picking silver medals in the 5, 000 meters and the 3,000 meters steeplechase.

The Finn remains the athlete with most gold medals in the track and field events.


Image: Paavo Nurmi of Finland during the VII Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium
Photographs: Getty Images

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Spitz held the record... then Phelps bettered it

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Mark Spitz (USA)

What Paavo Nurmi is to athletics, Mark Spitz was to swimming till recently (his efforts have since been surpassed by Michael Phelps).

The American won an unprecedented seven gold medals at the Munich Games in 1972, the most by any athlete in a single Olympics till Beijing (when Phelps won eight).

Having won two freestyle relay golds in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, Spitz came to Germany four years later as one of the favourites.

He bolstered his reputation further by winning all the seven events he entered – the 100 and 200 meters freestyle, the 100 and 200 meters butterfly,  the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 meters fresstyle relays and the 4 x 100 meters medley relay.

An icing on the cake was the fact that the American set a new world record in each of the seven disciplines. 


Image: Mark Spitz of the USA in action at the 1972 Olympics Games in Munich, Germany
Photographs: Tony Duffy/Allsport

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Gold medals across four Olympics

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Carl Lewis (USA)

One of the most decorated athletes of the modern times, Carl Lewis' resume includes nine Olympics gold medals and eight world championships medals of the same colour.

In a career spanning almost two decades, the American peaked with three gold medals in the inaugural world championships in Helsinki in 1983. A year later, at the Los Angeles Games, Lewis continued with his success story winning gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters, the long jump and the 4 x100 meters relay.

Four years later, he lost his 100 meters title to Ben Johnson. However, the Canadian was subsequently caught doping (and  banned) and Lewis was reinstated as the champion. Besides, he also won gold medals in the 4 x 100 meters and long jump events in Seoul.

Lewis would proceed to defend his long jump titles in both Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996), thereby etching his name firmly in the pantheon of athletics' legends. 


Image: Carl Lewis of the USA in action during the Long Jump event of the World Championships at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo
Photographs: Mike Powell/Allsport

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