With less than one year to go before the 30th modern Summer Olympic Games, otherwise known as London 2012 here is a countdown of the top gold medal winners throughout the Games’ history. The Summer Olympics is often illustrated as the greatest sporting event on the planet where thousands of athletes from around 200 nations participate in a wide range of events from Archery to Wrestling.
In this list, the athletes have proven themselves to have been number 1 in their field on more than one occasion. Interestingly there are patterns amongst which nations adapt to which sports best such as Hungary and fencing, the Soviet Union and gymnastics and the U.S.A and swimming.
Here are the top 25 winners of the gold:
Vitaly Scherbo - 6 Gold Medals
Born in Belarus in 1972, Scherbo seemed destined to become a gymnast and compete in the Olympics for firstly the Soviet Union and then for Belarus. Scherbo wrote himself into the record books at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he picked up all of his 6 gold medals out of a possible 8. This still remains an Olympic record for any gymnast at a single Olympic games.
Pal Kovacs - 6 Gold Medals
Kovacs’ success as an Olympic fencer spanned a long 24 years across five Olympic games. In each of the five Olympics Kovacs proved himself to be the most prolific fencer in the world, winning gold with the Hungarian Sabre team five times and one gold for the Individual Men’s Sabre in 1956. Unusually, Kovacs started out his career as a hurdler before switching to fencing.
Reiner Klimke - 6 Gold Medals
Klimke, officially titled Dr Reiner Klimke was a German equestrian as well as a qualified psychologist and neurologist. He has the best Olympic record for any equestrian rider with his 6 gold medals and two bronze’s during his 28 year Olympic career. Klimke was particularly prolific in the 1984 Los Angeles games where he picked up a double gold in the individual dressage and the team dressage.
Nedo Nadi - 6 Gold Medals
An accomplished all round fencer, Nadi is often thought of as the best to ever compete in the sport. He dominated the 1920 Olympic Games by winning two team gold’s and a gold medal in all three weapons categories and he remains the only fencer to have ever accomplished this feat. Nedo’s brother Aldo also competed in the 1920 games where he picked up three gold’s making a record of 8 gold medals within a family in one Olympic Games.
Kristin Otto - 6 Gold Medals
The most decorated female German swimmer, Kristin Otto swam for the East German team in 1984 and 1988. She instantly reached fame within the sport in 1988 when she became the first woman to win 6 gold medals at one Olympic Games, whilst setting records in the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly.
Gert Fredriksson - 6 Gold Medals
The most successful Swede ever to compete in the Olympics, Fredriksson was an accomplished sprint canoeist competing from 1948 to 1960. In a distinguished career Gert was presented the Mohammad Taher Trophy in 1956 by the Olympic Committee signalising his position as number 1 sportsman in the world at the time.
Akinori Nakayama - 6 Gold Medals
Nakamaya was an instrumental part of the Japanese male gymnast team which he lead to victory in both the 1968 and 1973 games. A diminutive athlete at just 5’’4, Nakayama also picked up two silver and two bronze medals in his career.
Rudolf Karpati - 6 Gold Medals
Another Hungarian fencer, Karpati fenced in the same Men’s Sabre Team as Pal Kovaks. Karpati did however manage to supersede Kovaks by winning two individual Sabre gold medals in 1956 and 1960 compared to Kovak’s one.
Amy Van Dyken - 6 Gold Medals
The most successful overall athlete at the 1996 Olympic Games with 4 gold’s, Van Dyken is possibly the best female swimmer to have come out of the U.S.A. What makes the career of Amy such an achievement is the fact that she was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child which she overcame through swimming.
Hubert Van Innis - 6 Gold Medals
The noble sport of archery has a clear master throughout history in the shape of Van Innis. His steady hands lead him to a total of 6 gold medals in two Olympic Games. Old Hubert reached his peak at his home country’s Olympics at Antwerp in 1920 where he cleared up with 4 gold medals.
Edoardo Mangiarotti - 6 Gold Medals
Competing alongside other Olympic greats such as Kovacs and Karpati, Mangiarotti flourished in the golden age of fencing. Considered the most successful fencer to have graced the sport, Edoardo has won more Olympic medals than any other competitor in his field.
Viktor Chukarin - 7 Gold Medals
The career of Chukarin marked the start of an era which saw numerous successful Soviet gymnasts competing in the Olympic Games. Chukarin’s haul of 6 medals won him the award for most successful athlete at the 1952 Olympic Games.
Vera Caslavska - 7 Gold Medals
A public favourite and a timeless champion Vera Caslavska’s 7 Gold medal’s all came in individual events – a record for female gymnasts. She is also by far the most successful Olympian from her country. Unfortunately for Vera, her outspoken comments about the Soviet regime meant her career ended prematurely as she was pushed away from gymnastics following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Aladar Gerevich - 7 Gold Medals
Yet another Hungarian fencer to make the list, Gerevich has one more Olympic gold medals than any other fencer. In a period where Hungary dominated the team Sabre competition, Gerevich fenced in every Olympic Games from 1932 to 1960. Amazingly, Hungary tried to prevent him from fencing in 1960 aged 50 but Gerevich proved himself by beating every member of his Sabre team in an individual match.
Boris Shakhlin - 7 Gold Medals
By all accounts, gymnast Shakhlin bossed the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Shakhlin boasts an impressive 13 Olympic medals in his career which was unfortunately cut short when he suffered from a heart attack aged 35.
Nikolai Adrianov - 7 Gold Medals
Whilst Adrianov’s haul of 7 gold medals in male gymnastics is impressive in itself, it is his collective medal tally from the Olympics that has made him famous. Altogether Adrianov managed to gain 15 medals in his Olympic career which was a male record up until 2008 when he was overtook by US swimmer Michael Phelps.
Ray Ewry - 8 Gold Medals
One of the first supreme American athletes to grace the Olympics, Ewry is only beaten by Michael Phelps when it comes to winning individual gold medals at the Games. Ewry dominated the standing high jump, standing triple jump and standing long jump competitions over three consecutive Olympics in 1900, 1904 and 1908. His achievements are even more remarkable when it is took into consideration that Ewry was consigned to a wheelchair for part of his childhood due to Polio which he later recovered from.
Matt Biondi - 8 Gold Medals
A champion swimmer from the U.S Matt Biondi hit his peak at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games when he won 5 gold medals and set 4 world records on his way to doing so. It could have been 6 medals at Seoul if Biondi hadn’t been victim to one of the biggest ever Olympic surprise defeats when Suriname’s Anthony Nesty pipped Biondi by 1/100th of a second in the 100 meter butterfly final.
Sawao Kato - 8 Gold Medals
The most successful ever male gymnast at the Olympic Games, Kato and his Japanese gymnast team enjoyed a spell of dominance before being challenged by Adrianov and the Soviets. Competing in the three Olympic Games of 1968, 1972 and 1976 Kato excelled in the parallel bars, floor exercise and team events. The Japanese male gymnasts lead by experienced their closest fight for the team title in Montreal 1976 when they beat the Soviet gymnasts by just four tenths of a point, earning their fifth consecutive title.
Birgit Fischer - 8 Gold Medals
Fischer, Germany’s most successful Olympic competitor and kayaking’s most decorated athlete had a long and illustrious career in the Olympics spanning from the Moscow Games in 1980 to 2004 in Athens. Birgit holds the unusual record of being both the youngest (18) and oldest (42) kayaking champion at the Olympics.
Jenny Thompson - 8 Gold Medals
Another prolific swimmer from the US, Thompson is the all-time leading female Olympic medal holder for her country. Competing in four Olympic Games, Thompson ended the myth that only young swimmers could win medals. Whilst the best female swimmer in the 1990’s, Thompson carried on swimming in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games, the latter of which at 31 years old.
Carl Lewis - 9 Gold Medals
The multi-talented Lewis lit up the Olympic Games in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 where he won Gold medals in the 100 meter sprint, 200 meter sprint, 4 x 100 meter relay and the long jump. Lewis is considered one of the first superstars of the track and field making athletes who competed in that area to become more than just athletes but icons. The International Olympic Committee awarded Lewis the title of ‘Sportsman of the Century.
Larisa Latynina - 9 Gold Medals
Having the combined status of most successful Olympic gymnast and most successful female Olympian is a sign of just how impressive the career of Latynina was. Larisa also has the greatest tally of Olympic medals ever. In three consecutive Olympics of 1956, 1960 and 1964 the Soviet gymnast won the all-round gymnast Gold medal as well as leading the Soviet gymnastics team to victory in all three years.
Mark Spitz - 9 Gold Medals
The glittering swimming career of Mark Spitz featured, amongst 33 world record times, 9 gold medals at the games only beaten by Michael Phelps. The crowning glory of the whole of Spitz’s career came in the 1972 Olympics in Munich where he not only won seven gold’s but smashed seven world records in the process.
Paavo Nurmi - 9 Gold Medals
The most successful Olympian ever in Athletics, Nurmi is a hero in Finland, a country where more emphasis is put on the Winter Games rather than the Summer Olympics. Easily the best middle and distance runner in the world at his peak he managed 3 gold’s in 1920, 5 in 1924 and 1 in 1928. In his crowning year of 1924 in Paris, Nurmi won both the 1500 meter final and the 5000 meter final with just 26 minutes rest time between the races.
Michael Phelps - 14 Gold Medals
The monumental achievements at the Olympics by Phelps can be seen just by the number of gold medals he has won. Bearing in mind he is 5 gold medals ahead of any other athlete shows what a remarkable sportsman he is. His 8 gold medal haul at the Beijing Games in 2008, 7 of which were world records, put Phelps in a position that for the foreseeable future may never be broken. What’s even more amazing is that Phelps is only 26 and still has another Olympic Games in him. It would be a huge to surprise not to see him pick up at least one more gold in London 2012.