The Olympic games are the ultimate showcase of individual and team greatness. It’s a quadrennial meet where the best athletes in the world compete in their respective disciplines. The modern Olympic games have existed since 1896 and since then, we’ve seen plenty of athletes rise above their compatriots to be called Olympic gold medalists. Among these gold medal winners are a handful of more special athletes who have the right to claim the title of best Olympians in the history of the Summer Olympic games.

“Trophy" Michael Phelps

Many rankings are debated but for sure, no one will question who the best Olympian of all-time is. While every Olympian on this list has broken world records, Michael Phelps broke an ancient Olympic record which stood for over 2,000 years. That’s not a typo: two thousand years. Leonidas of Rhodes was considered by ancient history as the most successful Olympian with 12 individual titles. Michael Phelps broke that record in 2016. With 28 medals, he is the most bemedalled Olympian of all-time and his 23 gold medals won are the most by any athlete and ranks 40th all-time if he were a country. That’s incredible. Phelps has won more gold medals than Jamaica, Argentina, and Mexico among others. In 2008, Phelps broke Mark Spitz’s record with 8 Olympic gold medal wins in a single Olympic game. He was the most bemedalled athlete in four straight Olympic games. He retired after winning 5 golds and one silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Trophy" Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis was America’s poster boy in the Olympics during the ’80s. Lewis was a track and field athlete who a total of nine Olympic gold medals. He is one of only four Olympians to win a single event in four Olympic games. Lewis did so by winning the long jump gold medal in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. But not only was Lewis a long jumper, but he was also one of the most dominant sprinters in history, topping the world rankings for the 100m and 200m for the majority of the 80s. He ran the 100m under 10 seconds a total of 15 times and the 200m under 20 seconds 10 times. In the long jump, Lewis jumped over 28 feet 71 times. He was named as “World Athlete of the Century” by the IAAF and “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee.

“Trophy" Nadia Comaneci

Romania’s pride, Nadia Comaneci captured the world as the first gymnast to record a perfect 10.0 score in the Olympic Games. Comaneci received six more perfect 10s during the same Olympic Games in 1976 en route to winning three gold medals. At the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, she added to her legend with two more perfect 10s and two more gold medals. Not only was she one of the best Olympic gymnasts ever, but she is also widely credited for popularizing the sport of gymnastics around the world. Comaneci is married to fellow Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner of the United States. She remains a well-known and powerful force in the world of gymnastics. Comaneci is the honorary president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, honorary president for the Romanian Olympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation.

“Trophy" Usain Bolt

Lightning Bolt. That’s the best way to describe this Jamaican who is considered the greatest sprinter of all-time. Usain Bolt holds the current world record for the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. He won all three races in three consecutive Olympics, winning a total of nine gold medals. He is the only sprinter to win the 100m and 200m in three consecutive Olympic games. His double sprint victory in the 2008 Olympics was done in world record time, making him the first sprinter to hold the world record for both 100m and 200m since fully automatic time became mandatory. Aside from the Olympics, Bolt is also an 11-time World Championships gold medalist. He also won consecutive World Championships from 2009-2015 except for the 2011 100m dash where he was disqualified because of a false start.

“Trophy" Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is regarded as the greatest track and field athlete of all-time. During a Big Ten athletic meet in 1935, Owens set three world records and tied another in less than an hour. That stands as the most amazing feat in all of track and field and is hailed as the “greatest 45 minutes ever in sports”. Owens captivated the imagination of the international community in 1935 when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games. Owens topped the 100m, 200m, long jump and was a member of the 4×100 relay team. He was the most bemedalled athlete during the games and because he was black, he shattered Adolf Hitler’s myth of “Aryan Race” supremacy. Today, the highest individual honors given by the United States Track and Field was named the Jesse Owens award in his honor.

“Trophy" Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz was the greatest Olympic swimmer of all-time before Michael Phelps came along. During the 1972 Olympics, Spitz won a record 9 gold medals and won all of them in world record time. That record stood until Phelps broke it in 2008 with a stunning eight gold medals. Between 1968 and 1972, Mark the Shark dominated the swimming world, winning a total of 9 Olympic gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze. Aside from that Spitz also won 31 Amateur Athletic Union gold medals and 5 Pan-American Games gold medals. During that period Spitz also set a total of 35 world records although two are unofficial. He was named as World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972.

“Trophy" Teofilo Stevenson

Cuba’s Teofilo Stevenson was one of the most successful amateur boxers of all-time. Stevenson is one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, the others being countryman Felix Savon and Laszlo Papp. Many even believe that had the Cuban officials allow the Cuban national boxing team to compete in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Savon could have won a fourth or even a fifth gold medal. Stevenson was awarded the Val Barker trophy in 1972 as the best boxer of the 1972 Olympics and the Olympic Order in 1987. Aside from dominating the Olympics, Stevenson also won three gold medals in three World Championships.

“Trophy" Paavo Nurmi

Known as the Flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi was one of the most dominating middle-distance Olympic runners ever. During the 1920’s he set a total of 22 world records from distances ranging from 1km to 20km. During the peak of his powers, Nurmi was undefeated in 21 consecutive races from 800m and longer. In a total of 12 Olympic events joined, the Flying Finn won a total of 9 gold medals and 3 silver medals. It was Nurmi who introduced “pace racing”, as he paced himself during races using a stopwatch while spreading his energy throughout the entire race. His imprint in the world of Track and Field was greater than anyone before him.

“Trophy" Ray Ewry

Raw Ewry was an American track and field athlete during the 1800s and is one of the most successful and dominant Olympians of all-time. He won a total of 10 gold medals in standing long jump ( now non-existent), triple jump and the high jump. He won the three events at the 1900 Olympics in Paris and repeated the treble four years later. Two of his gold medals were won at the 1906 Intercalated Games which isn’t recognized by the IOC but is unofficially considered an Olympic event. Ewry held the record with 8 total gold medals at an individual event before Michael Phelps broke it in 2008. Even then, since Ewry last won his gold medals in 1908, he held the record for at least a century.

“Trophy" Larisa Latynina

Larisa Latynina is the most successful gymnast in Olympic history after winning a total of 18 medals in 19 events participated. Latynina won 14 individual Olympic medals and 4 team medals between 1956-1964. Her total gold medal tally of 9 is the most by any Olympic gymnast, male or female. She used to hold the record for most Olympic medals with 18, holding the record for 48 years. Latynina is the only woman in Olympic gymnastics to win an All-Around medal in a minimum of three Olympic games

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