After a dramatic and thrilling European Championships, the sporting calendar now moves on to the Tokyo Olympics. Ahead of the tournament – the first to be held in Japan since 1964 – the Olympic Games betting markets are beginning to heat up.
Looking forward and predicting who will win the most medals, who will be the standout performer in track and field and how many medals Japan will win is a notoriously tricky task. In lieu of making bold predictions that could come back to bite us, we have instead decided to cast our minds back into history.
In this article, we commemorate some of the best athletes to have ever graced the Olympic Games for either their sporting achievements or the cultural impact of their performances at the tournaments.
#5 Usain Bolt
34-year-old sprinter Usain St Leo Bolt first made a name for himself in athletics during the 2002 World Junior Championships. At the tender age of 15, the already 6 foot 5 sprinter set a 200m personal best of 20.58 seconds in the first round before posting a time of 20.61 seconds in the second round to scoop the Gold medal.
With that performance he became the youngest world-junior Gold medallist ever, during that tournament he also won Silver as part of the Jamaican sprint relay team. His first Olympic Games came in 2004 when he headed to Athens to represent his country.
Unfortunately for Bolt, he was eliminated after the first round due to an injury he picked up in training for the Games. That disappointment put the fire in his belly to come back in 2008 stronger and more confident of success.
At those games Bolt won Gold in the 100m, setting a World Record time of 9.69 seconds along the way. 4 years later in London he once again won Gold in the event, shaving 0.06 seconds off his time before winning his third 100m Gold medal in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
An astonishing effort from a truly world class athlete.
(Blink and you’ll miss it, Usain Bolt’s rapid 100m sprint at the London 2012 Games.)
#4 Jesse Owens
Track and Field
In 1936 global politics was a frenzied melting pot threatening to explode into conflict at any moment. Great Britain and a host of other European superpowers were all seeking to appease Germany’s troubling new leader, Adolf Hitler.
Despite taking the move to ban German Jewish athletes from competing, Hitler’s Germany was still allowed by the IOC to host the Games. In fact, such was the desire to not offend der Führer that Jewish athletes from other countries were side-lined.
Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete caused great embarrassment to Hitler when he won 4 Gold medal in track and field events, making a mockery of the Nazi regime’s belief in Aryan supremacy.
It was later reported that Owens was snubbed by Hitler when he was led to the honours box following his fourth medal. Unfortunately because of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Berlin Games would be Owens first and last appearance at the Olympics.
#3 Nikolai Andrianov
The Cold War had an impact on so many aspects of life, but one area that really benefitted from the American and Russian desire to outdo one another was the world of sports.
Nikolai Andrianov was one of the incredibly talented athletes in the Soviet Union to benefit from the increased investment into sporting facilities. He made his Olympic debut in 1972 during a period in which Japan had been heavily dominating gymnastics.
Andrianov left those games with a Silver and a Bronze medal, before announcing himself on the big stage at the 1976 Montreal Games. There he won 4 Gold medals in the All-around, Floor exercise, Rings and Vault.
4 years later with the Olympics taking place on home soil, Andrianov won 2 more Golds, 2 more Silvers and another Bronze to bring his total Olympic medal haul to 15.
(Footage of Nikolai Andrianov’s floor exercise at the 1976 Olympic Games.)
#2 Larisa Semyonovna Latynina
In terms of longest name on this list, we have a winner. In terms of the record for most overall Olympic medals outside of the pool, we also have a winner.
Larisa Semyonovna Latynina won 18 medals at Games in an Olympic career that began at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Unlike Andrianov, she didn’t need any time to warm up to the world stage, scooping her first 4 Gold medals on debut.
This was followed up with another 3 Gold medals at the 1960 Rome Games and a further 2 Golds at the 1964 Tokyo Games. In addition to her fantastic haul of 9 Gold medals the Soviet also won 5 Silvers and 4 Bronzes at Olympic Games.
#1 Michael Phelps
Michael Fred Phelps II is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest Olympian of all-time. The Flying Fish as he is known in the USA holds the records for most medals won at Games with a truly staggering collection of 28.
(Michael Phelps’ 2004 Olympic debut still stands as the most impressive Olympics debut in history.)
In his first appearance at an Olympics in 2004, he stunned swimming fans by winning Gold in 6 different events. This was then followed up with a haul of 8 Medals at the 2008 Beijing Games before a somewhat (for him) underwhelming tally of only 4 Golds at the 2012 London Games.
In his last appearance at an Olympic Games, Phelps won 5 Gold medals and 1 Silver medal to at Rio 2016 to cement his place as the most decorated Olympian of all-time.