Jim Kerr

Parameter Value
Full Name James Lancefield "Jim" Kerr
Born 17 August 1940 in Plainfield; New Jersey (USA)
Measurements 182 cm / 73 kg
Country United States / Virgin Islands

Jim Kerr was on the US Olympic team in the modern pentathlon in 1964 but did not compete. He excelled in both swimming and running, and was on state championship teams in both cross-country and swimming at Waukesha South High School in Wisconsin. He later swam at the University of Michigan. After college Kerr competed in fencing competitions and was a competitor at several US national championships. He later settled in the US Virgin Islands, where he continued to compete in fencing and represented the US Virgin Islands as a fencer at the 1984 Olympics. Later in life, Kerr became blind and began sailing for recreation. He then started competing in disabled sailing competitions for the blind, with an aim to sail at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Should Kerr make the US Virgin Islands sailing team for the 2016 Paralympics, it would be a record of sorts. While overlapping the Olympics and Paralympics, and only an alternate in 1964, it would be 52 years since his first appearance at the Olympics in Tokyo. The record for longest time span as an Olympic competitor is 48 years by Japanese equestrien Hiroshi Hoketsu, who competed in 1964, and then not again until 2008, and returned in 2012 at London.

Games/Sport Event Position
1964 Modern Pentathlon Individual/Team DNS
1984 Fencing Individual Épée =61

Alpine World Championships were once held during the Olympics

On Tuesday the World Alpine Skiing Championships get underway in Colorado (USA) towns of Vail and Beaver Creek. From 1948 through 1980, no World Championships in the sport were held in Olympic years, with the Olympic races doubling as World Championships – except for the combined event. This event, which has been on the Olympic Program again since 1988, did produce a World Champion, but not an Olympic Champion. Who are these Olympic “champions”?

Gustavo Thöni (center) twice won the “Olympic” combined event, in 1972 and 1976. He also won three Olympic medals at these Games.

After the combined event was held in both 1936 and 1948, it was abandoned in 1952 to make room for the new giant slalom competition. But as it was still held at the regular World Championships (which were held in even years between Olympics), the combined event returned in 1956. However, it was never an actual event – no separate races were held – but instead conducted on paper only. Based on weighting factors and the time behind the winner of each race, the skiers were awarded points, with the lowest total winning (this format was later replaced by a simpler format with finishing times simply added up). Another difference with the present-day combined event is that it also included the giant slalom, not just the downhill and the slalom. From 1956 through 1980, the medal winners in these events were:

Year Gender Gold NOC Silver NOC Bronze NOC
1956 Men Toni Sailer AUT Charles Bozon FRA Stig Sollander SWE
1956 Women Madeleine Berthod SUI Fieda Dänzer SUI Giuliana Chenal-Minuzzo ITA
1960 Men Guy Périllat FRA Charles Bozon FRA Hans-Peter Lanig GER
1960 Women Anne Heggtveit CAN Sonja Sperl GER Barbi Henneberger GER
1964 Men Ludwig Leitner GER Gerhard Nenning AUT Billy Kidd USA
1964 Women Marielle Goitschel FRA Christl Haas AUT Edith Zimmermann AUT
1968 Men Jean-Claude Killy FRA Dumeng Giovanoli SUI Heinrich Messner AUT
1968 Women Nancy Greene CAN Marielle Goitschel FRA Annie Famose FRA
1972 Men Gustav Thöni ITA Walter Tresch SUI Jim Hunter CAN
1972 Women Annemarie Möser-Pröll AUT Florence Steurer FRA Toril Førland NOR
1976 Men Gustav Thöni ITA Willi Frommelt LIE Greg Jones USA
1976 Women Rosi Mittermaier FRG Danièle Debernard FRA Hanni Wenzel LIE
1980 Men Phil Mahre USA Andreas Wenzel LIE Leonahard Stock AUT
1980 Women Hanni Wenzel LIE Cindy Nelson USA Ingrid Eberle AUT

Many of these are not surprising winners, as Sailer, Killy, Mittermaier and Wenzel medalled in all three events. Others, however, are not known as Olympics heroes. Ludwig Leitner, for example, did not reach the podium on any of the Olympic events, but did achieve three top eight positions. The 1972 bronze medallist, Jim Hunter, didn’t place in the top 10 in any of the three races.

Hanni Wenzel won both of Liechstein’s only two Olympic titles to date in 1980, and could have won a third one if the combined event would have had medal status at the time.


How many Olympians have there been?

You’d think that one of the easier questions for us to answer would be: “How many Olympians have there been”? This simple question is actually quite hard to answer. We do have an answer, of course, but it’s also definitely wrong.

As with many statistical issues, one first has to define what an Olympian is. We could look to the World Olympians Association (WOA), which defines an Olympian as:

An Olympian is an athlete who has been accredited to participate in the Olympic Games in a full medal sport.

This is a useful starting point: it explicitly names athletes (so no coaches, doctors, team leaders, etc.) and also excludes competitors in demonstration sports (which have not been held since 1992), exhibitions (last held in 2008) and other side-events. However, the “accredited” part of the definition is a bit less useful for us.

Among accredited athletes are of course those who eventually compete, but also those who fail to start for any reason (injury, disability, left off the team) or are only brought on a substitutes. In some sports, there are even various levels of accreditation. For example, in football (or soccer if you prefer), each team is nowadays allowed to enter 18 players, which are allowed to stay in the Olympic Village. However, if one of these gets injured, they are allowed to replaced them by one of four players on a separate list. Many of these alternate players don’t actually go to the Olympics, but they do have an accreditation. It seems to us that  being present at the Olympics would be a minimum to qualify as an Olympian.

The 18 Mexican football players that were handed an Olympic gold medal in London 2012.

We could then, of course, use that criterion to decide who is an Olympian. But this is pretty hard. Finding entry lists or accreditation lists is one, but these never say if a person was actually in town or not, which means we would have to figure this out for each athlete personally. And not just for recent years, but also for entrants from 1896, making this a virtually impossible task.

So instead of following the WOA, we’ve used our own definition:

An Olympian is an athlete who has competed in the Olympic Games in a full medal sport.

But that definition still isn’t complete. What exactly is a full medal sport? And what are Olympic Games, even?

Turns out that you can debate about both. While the Olympic Games of the modern era are pretty well-known, there’s an odd-one-out: the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens. While organized and approved by the IOC at the time, the IOC later decide not to recognize these Games as official – despite their importance to the Olympic Movement. Many Olympic historians disagree with this view, and so do we, so we include these Games in our figures.

Ray Ewry won a total of 10 Olympic gold medals, including two at the 1906 Intercalated Games, which are not currently recognized by the IOC.

Regarding the full medal sports, there is also debate about the early Olympics. In 1900, the Olympics were held in conjunction with the sports events at the World Exposition in Paris. Many events did not use the predicate ‘Olympic’, despite the fact that the we consider them to have been part of the Olympics. Four years later, when the Olympics were a side-show of yet another major exhibition (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), the organizers did the opposite, and labelled every sporting event “Olympic”, including e.g. track and field championships for elementary school boys from St. Louis, handicap races, and other competitions hardly word the predicate “Olympic”.


One of the more shameful “Olympic” events in St. Louis were the Anthropology Days in St. Louis, were so-called ‘savages’ competed against one another.

Some historians indeed consider all events held in Paris and St. Louis to have been Olympic. The IOC has never officially made a list of Olympic events in 1900 and 1904, although the list of medallists on their website can be taken as such. A clear method by the IOC to decide which events are Olympic, however, is unknown to us. The approach we use was set up by one of us, Bill Mallon, in the late 1990s when writing books about those early Olympics. He applied four criteria to events:

  1. the events must be open to amateurs only (this was the IOC opinion at the time)
  2. all competitors must compete equally (disallowing handicap events)
  3. the events must be open to competitors from all nations (even if only competitors from one nation competed)
  4. the events must be open to all (no limitations on age, origin, competency, etc. such as “junior”, “novice”)

This gives a list that excludes many of the fringe events held in these years, but is also slightly longer than the one used by the IOC.

Moving forward in time, there’s another category of events that qualified as full medal events at the time they were held, but that are often omitted: the art, aeronautics and alpinism competitions. From 1912 through 1948, Olympic medals were awarded in art, and between 1924 and 1936, medals were also handed out in alpinism and aeronautics. These medallists are not found on the IOC website, but they definitely received medals, which is why we include them as well.

So, with all that defining out of the way, it’s finally time to give you a number:


Now, we do have to say that this number is – sadly – wrong. Records books of the Olympics aren’t always complete, and we know for certain that many athletes are missing. For example, the members of the Greek gymnastics teams in 1896 have so far never surfaced, and neither have the names of the art competitors in 1920 that didn’t win a prize. In some cases, we do even know the number of athletes that we’re missing, but we don’t know if these are all “new” Olympians or not.

Even for more recent Olympics, information on who competed isn’t always clear-cut. In handball, all players on the team are listed on the match roster, even if they didn’t play. For recent years, detailed substitution information is available, but this is lacking for earlier years, leaving us to rely alternative sources such as video footage, contact with the athlete in question, etc.

Some of the 128,420 Olympians during the opening of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Apart from missing data in the sources, we are of course only human, and therefore make errors. For example, we recently figured out we had missed two substitutes in the 1964 4-man bobsled competition (although both were already known as Olympians) – even though this information was in the Official Results.

To compensate for that, we sometimes unearth information that isn’t even in the Official Results. For example, last year, we found out two missing divers in the 1960 women’s diving event, and an hitherto unknown substitute in the 1920 water polo match Brazil – Sweden.

So, it is with full confidence we can say that 128,420 is the wrong number. But we dare you to come up with a better one!

Individual and Team Olympic Medal Records

So we know who holds the Olympic records for most medals won and most gold medals won – that’s an easy one, Michael Phelps, who has won 22 medals and 18 gold medals (and is probably not done yet).

But Phelps won 9 medals in relay races, winning a medal in every swim relay race in 2004, 2008, and 2012, so he had a little help. What about winning individual medals? Who has won the most individual medals and individual gold medals? Is it still Phelps?

Not quite. The most individual medals title still belongs to Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast who won 18 medals in all, the records that Phelps broke in London. Latynina won 14 of those medals by herself. Here is the list of all those winning 9 or more individual medals, and women who won 8 or more:

IndMeds Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport
14 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM
13 Michael Phelps M S USA SWI
12 Nikolay Andrianov M S URS GYM
10 Borys Shakhlin M S URS GYM
10 Takashi Ono M S JPN GYM
10 Aleksey Nemov M S RUS GYM
10 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH
9 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M W NOR BIA
9 Paavo Nurmi M S FIN ATH
9 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS
9 Sawao Kato M S JPN GYM
9 Viktor Chukarin M S URS GYM
9 Vitaly Shcherbo M S BLR GYM
9 Martin Sheridan M S USA ATH
8 Věra Čáslavská F S TCH GYM
8 Claudia Pechstein F W GER SSK
8 Karin Enke-Kania F W GDR SSK
8 Gunda Niemann-St’mann-Kleemann F W GER SSK

Larysa Latynina
As you can see, Latynina is the only woman with more than 8 individual medals, with 4 women tied at that level. Two people on this list, Ray Ewry and Martin Sheridan, won some of their medals in 1906 (Ewry 2, Sheridan 5), so purists may demur and drop them from this list.

As to individual golds, yes, Phelps does lead this list with 11. And again, Ewry presents a problem with 10, including 2 in 1906, but he would still be second with 8, if you skip the 1906 Intercalated Olympics. Here is the list of all Olympians with 5 or more individual gold medals:

IndGolds Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport
11 Michael Phelps M S USA SWI
10 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH
7 Věra Čáslavská F S TCH GYM
7 Carl Lewis M S USA ATH
6 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM
6 Nikolay Andrianov M S URS GYM
6 Borys Shakhlin M S URS GYM
6 Paavo Nurmi M S FIN ATH
6 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS
6 Lidiya Skoblikova F W URS SSK
5 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M W NOR BIA
5 Sawao Kato M S JPN GYM
5 Viktor Chukarin M S URS GYM
5 Vitaly Shcherbo M S BLR/EUN GYM
5 Martin Sheridan M S USA ATH
5 Nadia Comăneci F S ROU GYM
5 Gert Fredriksson M S SWE CAN
5 Krisztina Egerszegi F S HUN SWI
5 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK
5 Vitaly Shcherbo M S EUN GYM
5 Bonnie Blair F W USA SSK
5 Eric Heiden M W USA SSK

The women’s leader is Czechoslovak gymnast Věra Čáslavská with 7 individual gold medals, followed by Latynina, and Soviet speed skater Lidiya Skoblikova, both with 6. Among Winter Olympians, Skoblikova is tied with Norwegian cross-country skiier Bjørn Dæhlie, with 6 individual gold medals, followed by 4 Winter Olympians with 5: Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Finnish speed skater Clas Thunberg, and American speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.

So who has won the most Olympic medals, without ever winning an individual medal? I dare say nobody in the twitterverse would ever get this trivia question correct, except for possibly the athlete herself, and even she may not know it. It is the Hungarian canoeist Katalin Kovács, who has won 8 Olympic medals from 2000-12, but never an individual one. Here are all those who won 6 or more Olympic medals, but never won an individual medal. As you would expect, they tend to be in sports with no, or few, opportunities to win individual medals.

Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport
8 Katalin Kovács F S HUN CAN
7 Willis Lee M S USA SHO
7 Bogdan Musiol M W GDR/GER BOB
6 Georgeta Damian-Andrunache F S ROU ROW
6 Steven Redgrave M S GBR ROW
6 Doina Ignat F S ROU ROW
6 Veronica Cogeanu-Cochelea F S ROU ROW
6 Wolfgang Hoppe M W GDR/GER BOB
6 Eugenio Monti M W ITA BOB

Katalin Kovács

Now who has won the most Olympic gold medals but never won an individual gold? This one some people may get, as Jenny Thompson won 12 medals and 8 golds in swimming for the United States and leads the list, and is fairly well known. Her frustration at not winning an individual gold was well publicized (as was the same for her frequent teammate, Dara Torres – of note, Thompson and Torres were, and are, not friends). In fact this is not even close, as she leads 5 athletes with 5 team gold medals, with another 21 winning only 4 team golds. Here is the list of all those with 4 or more Olympic gold medals, but no individual gold medals:

Golds Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport
8 Jenny Thompson F S USA SWI
5 Tom Jager M S USA SWI
5 Willis Lee M S USA SHO
5 Georgeta Damian-Andrunache F S ROU ROW
5 Steven Redgrave M S GBR ROW
5 Anastasiya Davydova F S RUS SYN
4 Dara Torres F S USA SWI
4 Ricco Groß M W GER BIA
4 Jason Lezak M S USA SWI
4 Einar Liberg M S NOR SHO
4 Lloyd Spooner M S USA SHO
4 Katrin Wagner-Augustin F S GER CAN
4 Doina Ignat F S ROU ROW
4 Aleksandr Tikhonov M W URS BIA
4 Jayna Hefford F W CAN ICH
4 Kevin Kuske M W GER BOB
4 André Lange M W GER BOB
4 Oreste Puliti M S ITA FEN
4 Hayley Wickenheiser F W CAN ICH
4 Kathrin Boron F S GER ROW
4 Teresa Edwards F S USA BAS
4 Jon Olsen M S USA SWI
4 Viorica Susanu F S ROU ROW
4 Lisa Leslie F S USA BAS
4 Caroline Ouellette F W CAN ICH
4 Matthew Pinsent M S GBR ROW
4 Anastasiya Yermakova F S RUS SYN

So what does this all mean? Hell, we don’t know, but it was fun doing these lists!

Olympic Medal Record Progressions

We know that American swimmer Michael Phelps won 6 medals in London in 2012, giving him a total of 22 Olympic medals. We also know that this broke the record for the most Olympic medals all-time, breaking the record of 18 that had been held since 1964 by Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina. Who held the record before Latynina? In baseball, track & field, and several other sports, the list of record progressions is well studied. Is there such a list of the progression of most Olympic medals? Well, we’ve never seen one before but we decided to provide these lists for you, in various permutations.

Here is the overall list for most Olympic medals won. Note that everyone on the list was male except Latynina, so we have also provided the male progression by adding in Nikolay Andrianov.

Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
6 Hermann Weingärtner M S GER GYM 1896
6 Bob Garrett M S USA ATH 1900
6 Anton Heida M S USA GYM 1904
6 George Eyser M S USA GYM 1904
6 Burton Downing M S USA CYC 1904
6 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1904
7 Léon Moreaux M S FRA SHO 1906
8 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1906
10 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1908
8 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1908
10 Hubert Van Innis M S BEL ARC 1920
11 Carl Osburn M S USA SHO 1924
12 Paavo Nurmi M S FIN ATH 1928
13 Edoardo Mangiarotti M S ITA FEN 1960
18 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM 1964
15 Nikolay Andrianov M S URS GYM 1980
22 Michael Phelps M S USA SWI 2012

Two marks for men on this list lasted for 32 years – Paavo Nurmi’s 12 medals, which stood from 1928-60, and Nikolay Andrianov’s 15 medal mark for men, which stood from 1980-2012. Of course, Latynina’s mark lasted for 48 years until Phelps broke it in 2012.

Here is the list for women only, all at the Summer Olympics:

Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
2 Charlotte Cooper F S GBR TEN 1900
2 Countess Hélène de Pourtalès F S SUI SAI 1900
2 Hélène Prévost F S FRA TEN 1900
2 Marion Jones F S USA TEN 1900
2 Hedwiga Rosenbaumová F S BOH TEN 1900
3 Lida Howell F S USA ARC 1904
3 Emma Cooke F S USA ARC 1904
3 Eliza Pollock F S USA ARC 1904
3 Ethelda Bleibtrey F S USA SWI 1920
3 Suzanne Lenglen F S FRA TEN 1920
3 Frances Schroth F S USA SWI 1920
5 Kitty McKane F S GBR TEN 1924
7 Mariya Horokhovska F S URS GYM 1952
10 Ágnes Keleti F S HUN GYM 1956
12 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM 1960
18 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM 1964

Latynina’s record for women, with 18 medals, will have stood for 52 years in Rio de Janeiro, and will likely stand for many more Olympiads.

Now at the Winter Games, the progression actually entails a combination of men and women:

Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
2 Madge Syers F W GBR FSK 1908
2 Phyllis Johnson F W GBR FSK 1920
5 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1924
7 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1928
7 Ivar Ballangrud M W NOR SSK 1936
7 Veikko Hakulinen M W FIN CCS 1960
9 Sixten Jernberg M W SWE CCS 1964
9 Raisa Smetanina F W URS CCS 1988
10 Raisa Smetanina F W EUN/URS CCS 1992
12 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS 1998
13 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M W NOR BIA 2014

Following are the winter lists for men and women separately:

Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
1 9 athletes tied M W FSK 1908
1 9 athletes tied M W FSK 1920
1 24 athletes tied M W ICH 1920
5 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1924
5 Roald Larsen M W NOR SSK 1924
7 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1928
7 Ivar Ballangrud M W NOR SSK 1936
7 Veikko Hakulinen M W FIN CCS 1960
9 Sixten Jernberg M W SWE CCS 1964
12 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS 1998
13 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M W NOR BIA 2014
Medals Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
2 Madge Syers F W GBR FSK 1908
2 Phyllis Johnson F W GBR FSK 1920
2 Ludovika Jakobsson-Eilers F W FIN FSK 1924
3 Andrée Brunet-Joly F W FRA FSK 1932
3 Beatrix Loughran F W USA FSK 1932
3 Sonja Henie F W NOR FSK 1936
3 Trude Jochum-Beiser F W AUT ASK 1952
3 Mirl Buchner F W GER ASK 1952
4 Lyubov Kozyreva-Baranova F W URS CCS 1960
4 Radiya Yeroshina F W URS CCS 1960
6 Lidiya Skoblikova F W URS SSK 1964
7 Galina Kulakova F W URS CCS 1976
8 Galina Kulakova F W URS CCS 1980
9 Raisa Smetanina F W URS CCS 1988
10 Raisa Smetanina F W EUN/URS CCS 1992
10 Stefania Belmondo F W ITA CCS 2002
10 Marit Bjørgen F W NOR CCS 2014

Now what about gold medals and the progression lists for them? Here is the list for men at the Summer Olympics – here again we have the problem with the 1906 Olympics so we have listed Ray Ewry, both with and without those Games:

Golds Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport Year
3 Hermann Weingärtner M S GER GYM 1896
3 Alfred Flatow M S GER GYM 1896
3 Paul Masson M S FRA CYC 1896
3 Carl Schuhmann M S GER GYM/WRE 1896
3 Carl Schuhmann M S GER GYM 1896
4 Al Kraenzlein M S USA ATH 1900
6 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1904
8 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1906
10 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1908
8 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH 1908
9 Paavo Nurmi M S FIN ATH 1928
9 Mark Spitz M S USA SWI 1972
9 Carl Lewis M S USA ATH 1996
14 Michael Phelps M S USA SWI 2008
18 Michael Phelps M S USA SWI 2012

One thing to note above, if one disregards the 1906 Olympics, is how long Paavo Nurmi’s record of 9 gold medals lasted, fully 44 years, until tied in 1972 by Mark Spitz.

Now the women’s Summer Olympic gold medal record progression:

Golds Name Gdr Ssn NOCGolds SptGolds Year
2 Charlotte Cooper F S GBR TEN 1900
3 Lida Howell F S USA ARC 1904
3 Ethelda Bleibtrey F S USA SWI 1920
3 Martha Norelius F S USA SWI 1928
3 Helene Madison F S USA SWI 1932
3 Rie Mastenbroek F S NED SWI 1936
4 Fanny Blankers-Koen F S NED ATH 1948
5 Ágnes Keleti F S HUN GYM 1956
7 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM 1960
9 Larysa Latynina F S URS GYM 1964

Note that Latynina still holds this record, and has held it since 1960 – which will be 56 years in Rio.

Following are the gold medal record progressions for men and women at the Winter Games:

Golds Name Gdr Ssn NOCGolds SptGolds Year
3 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1924
5 Clas Thunberg M W FIN SSK 1928
5 Eric Heiden M W USA SSK 1980
5 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS 1994
8 Bjørn Dæhlie M W NOR CCS 1998
8 Ole Einar Bjørndalen M W NOR BIA 2014

Note here how long Clas Thunberg’s 5 gold medal record lasted – from 1928 until 1980 when it was tied by Eric Heiden, and until 1998 when it was broken by Bjørn Dæhlie.

Golds Name Gdr Ssn NOCGolds SptGolds Year
2 Andrée Brunet-Joly F W FRA FSK 1932
3 Sonja Henie F W NOR FSK 1936
6 Lidiya Skoblikova F W URS SSK 1964
6 Lyubov Yegorova F W EUN/RUS CCS 1994
6 Marit Bjørgen F W NOR CCS 2014

Again, two long-lasting records, with Sonja Henie leading the list from 1936-64, and Lidiya Skoblikova leading the list from 1964 through 2014, although her 6 gold medals have been tied twice.

The unluckiest countries at the Olympics

We’ve written before about unlucky Olympians here on OlympStats – Olympic athletes who came closest to winning an Olympic medal, but never did. But which nations have come closest to winning an Olympic medal without actually doing so?

Erick Barrondo’s silver medal removed Guatemala from the list of “unluckiest” nations at the Olympics

Until 2012, the clear number one was Guatemala. The Central American nation had raked up three 4th places (including one in the art competitions), four 5th places (adding a fifth in London) and four more places between 6th and 8th. But race walker Erick Barrondo ended his country’s medal drought and became the first Guatemalteco win an Olympic medal with a silver medal in the 20 km.

Nan Aye Khine earned a 4th place for Myanmar (Burma), but was disqualified afterwards for steroid use.

With Guatemala out of contention, here are four nations that have finished 4th on one occasion. Of these nations, the one with the most 5th places is Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The South East Asian country is relatively strong in weightlifting and boxing. Win Kay Thi earned a 4th place in the 2000 women’s flyweight weightlifting, and two more weightlifters and two boxers have ranked 5th (or losing quarter-finalist) in the past. The nation lost another 4th place, achieved in 2004, when it was found that another female weightlifter, Nan Aye Khine, had used anabolic steroids.

Alessandra Perilli took a shot at the medals in London, but narrowly failed.

Behind Myanmar, the unluckiest nation is San Marino. The tiny enclave republic, embedded within Italy, had its best result in London. Trap shooter Alessandra Perilli was involved in a three-way shoot-off for silver and bronze, but missed her second shot and fell outside of the podium. Prior to Perilli, other Sanmarinese shooters had also come close to the prizes: Francesco Nanni was 5th in 1984 (small-bore rifle, prone), while trap shooters Emanuela Felici (twice) and Francesco Amici had earned 7th places.

Ibrahim Kamal (Jordan) lost the bronze medal match in his taekwondo event, but still achieved his country’s best ever Olympic performance.

Similarly close has been Jordan, which has placed 4th, 5th and 7th in taekwondo. Samoa is closing in on these countries:in London 2012, they earned a 6th and two 7th places (weightlifting and taekwondo), adding to a 4th place won in Beijing.

Olympic Challenge Trophies

It is not well known, but in the early years of the Modern Olympic Games, from 1906-1920, a number of IOC Challenge Trophies were awarded. These were special trophies that were donated, usually by quite prominent persons, and the trophies were given to the winners of the various events on a temporary basis. The trophies were in addition to the gold medal awards, and had to be returned to the IOC prior to the next Olympic Games.

At the 1908 Olympic Games in London there were 12 challenges. Three more were donated at the 13th IOC Session (1910). When further challenges came to the IOC in 1911 it was then decided that no further Challenge Trophies would be accepted. Some of the challenge trophies were not awarded and strangely, a few of the challenges were for the same events. The last three challenge trophies that were donated were never awarded and the event for which they were to be given was also never announced.

At the 22nd IOC Session in Rome on 12 April 1923, the IOC discontinued the practice of awarding challenge trophies. Most of the trophies still reside in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. In 1946, the Baroness de Coubertin, widow of Pierre de Coubertin, donated a final challenge trophy that was never awarded. The other two trophies that were never awarded were donated by the Czechoslovakian President and the Italian Gymnastics Federation.

The most well-known challenge trophy was that won by Jim Thorpe in 1912 for the decathlon, given by the Russian Emperor. When Thorpe’s medals were returned by the IOC in 1982, the family questioned if they should also receive the challenge trophy, but as stated, these were to be temporary and returned to the IOC at the next Olympics, so after 1920, Thorpe’s family had no official claim to them.

Here are the lists of all the Challenge Trophies awarded, from 1906-1920:

Donor (Event) 1906
Unknown Donor (ancient pentathlon) Hjalmar Mellander
Donor (Event) 1908
Mme. de Montgomery (discus throw) Martin Sheridan
Gold & Silversmiths (heavyweight wrestling) Richárd Weisz
The Football Association (football) Great Britain
Brunetta d’Usseaux (coxed eights rowing) Great Britain
Brunetta d’Usseaux (1500 swimming) Henry Taylor
Lord Westbury (clay trap shooting) Walter Ewing
King of Greece (marathon footrace) Johnny Hayes
The English Fencers (épée team) France
City of Prague (individual gymnastics) Alberto Braglia
French Government (6 metre yachting) Great Britain
Prince of Wales (100 km cycling) Charles Bartlett
Hurlingham Club (polo) Great Britain
Donor (Event) 1912
Mme. de Montgomery (discus throw) Armas Taipale
Gold & Silversmiths (heavyweight wrestling) Yrjö Saarela
The Football Association (football) Great Britain
Brunetta d’Usseaux (coxed eights rowing) Great Britain
Brunetta d’Usseaux (1500 swimming) George Hodgson
Lord Westbury (clay trap shooting) James Graham
King of Greece (marathon footrace) Kenneth McArthur
The English Fencers (épée team) Belgium
City of Prague (individual gymnastics) Alberto Braglia
French Government (6 metre yachting) France
King of Sweden (pentathlon) Jim Thorpe
Swedish Calvary (overall equestrian) Sweden
Pierre de Coubertin (modern pentathlon) Gösta Lilliehöök
King of Italy (show jumping team) Sweden
Contessa Casa de Miranda (women’s platform) Greta Johansson
Russian Emperor (decathlon) Jim Thorpe
German Emperor (show jumping team) Sweden
Austrian Emperor (dressage individual) Carl Bonde
City of Budapest (sabre team) Hungary
Géza Andressy (show jumping individual) Jean Cariou
Donor (Event) 1920
Mme. de Montgomery (discus throw) Elmer Niklander
Gold & Silversmiths (heavyweight wrestling) Adolf Lindfors
The Football Association (football) Belgium
Brunetta d’Usseaux (coxed eights rowing) United States
Brunetta d’Usseaux (1500 swimming) Norman Ross
Lord Westbury (clay trap shooting) Mark Arie
King of Sweden (pentathlon) Eero Lehtonen
Swedish Calvary (overall equestrian) Sweden
Pierre de Coubertin (modern pentathlon) Gustaf Dyrssen
King of Italy (show jumping team) Sweden
Contessa Casa de Miranda (women’s platform) Stefanie Clausen


New Year’s Olympic Ski Jumping

The first major sports event in any year is the New Year’s Ski Jumping competition at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, part of the prestigious annual Four Hills Tournament. It’s Olympic connections go back all the way to 1922.

Birger Ruud jumps to Olympic gold in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Earlier that year he had also won the New Year’s competition.

On January 1st, 1922, the first New Year’s Ski Jumping competition was held in Garmisch – this was a separate town until it was forcibly merged with Partenkirchen for the 1936 Winter Olympics. It was part of a national German Olympic Games (Deutsche Winterkampfspiele), as Germany was not permitted to take part in the Olympic Games due to its role in World War I. Only at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz would Germany appear again at the Olympic stage. The jumping hill built for this occasion was used for a competition on January 1st, which was to become an annual tradition. When Garmisch-Partenkirchen was awarded the Winter Olympics of 1936, a new jumping hill was built, which was inaugurated in February 1934, and has been used for the New Year’s event since. It has been renovated several times, in 1950, 1978 and 2007, and is still used in competition today. The event became part of the Four Hills Tournament in 1953, the first edition of that tournament, and has been ever since. The other competitions are held in Oberstdorf (Germany), Innsbruck and Bischofshofen (Austria). Garmisch-Partenkirchen joined Munich in a bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but the IOC elected South Korean Pyeongchang instead.

Jens Weißflog won 4 times at Garmisch, and also earned 3 Olympic golds, two of them in Lillehammer 1994 (shown here).

Among the winners of the New Year’s Ski Jump have – naturally – been a lot of Olympians. In fact, all winners since Paavo Lukkariniemi in 1966 have competed at the Olympics. The person with the most wins is Germany’s Martin Neuner with five (1924-1928), and in his only Olympic appearance (1928), he placed 9th. Two Germans have won four times on January 1st: Sepp Weiler, who only attended the 1952 Olympics as he was blocked from competing in 1948 and Jens Weißflog. Weißflog won at Garmisch in 1984-85, in 1990 and, jointly, in 1992. In 1984 he also won a gold medal, adding two more in 1994.

Winners in Garmisch didn’t always do well at the Olympics – e.g. three-time winner Bjørn Wirkola (1967-69), but since the mid-80s, all but a handful of winners have won at least one Olympic medal. On 9 occasions did the winner of the New Year’s Jump also win Olympic gold, although the last two times (2002 and 2010) this was in the team competition rather than an individual event.

Year Ski jumper Country
1936 Birger Ruud Norway
1964 Veikko Kankkonen Finland
1972 Yukio Kasaya Japan
1984 Jens Weißflog East Germany
1988 Matti Nykänen Finland
1994 Espen Bredesen Norway
1998 Kazuyoshi Funaki Japan
2002 Sven Hannawald Germany
2010 Gregor Schlierenzauer Austria

The 2014 podium, with Austrian winner Thomas Diethart.

The winner of the 1962 competition was Georg Thoma of Germany. Two years earlier, he had won a gold medal, but not in ski jumping, but in the Nordic combined (which combines ski jumping with cross country skiing), becoming the first non-Scandinavian to win that title.

Santa Claus and the Olympics

So tomorrow nite Santa Claus will be delivering presents throughout the world to all the good little girls and boys. Santa has never competed at the Olympics, one major reason being that he lives at the North Pole, which is not affiliated with any known National Olympic Committee. It is unknown if he has ever attempted to become affiliated with Greenland, which claims the North Pole, and whose athletes have competed for Denmark. Further, another reason Santa has not competed at the Olympics is that he is, to be politically correct here, somewhat adipose-challenged.

However, in searching our database, we did find the following Olympians who may be related to Santa Claus, although we have not yet finished the search for these relations. Attempts to reach Santa and discuss this were unsuccessful, as his administrative assistant told us, “He’ll get back to you after the New Year. This is really his busy time of year.”

Christian Claus sailed for Austria at the 1988 Olympics, finishing fourth in the Tornado, alongside Norbert Petschel. That same year Yves Clausse, a Luxembourgeois swimmer, also competed at the Olympics, as he did again in 1992. Clausse swam the 50, 100, and 200 freestyle, with a best finish of 28th in the 1988 50 metre freestyle. It is not known if he changed his name from Claus, possibly because of a falling out with Santa over not receiving the presents he wanted.

Hildrun Claus was a long jumper for East Germany who competed at the 1964 Olympics, although under her married name of Laufer-Claus, having married Peter Laufer. If related to Santa, it is unknown if he approved of this marriage.

Another East German athlete was Kerstin Claus, a high hurdler at the 1980 Olympics, but she competed again in 1988 as Kerstin Knabe.

But of all Santa Claus’s potential Olympic relatives, surely one must be the 2012 Dutch decathlete Eelco Sintnicolaas.

Let’s not also forget that in 1992 a Swedish horse named Lille Claus competed in equestrian. Perhaps she had some reindeer ancestors.

Two Santas have competed at the Olympics – Santa Margarita Skeet played basketball for Cuba at the 1980 Olympics, the team placing sixth, and Santa Inés Melchor competed in athletics for Peru in both 2004 at Athina and 2012 in London, running the 5,000 metres in 2004, and finishing 25th in the marathon in 2012.

And again, from the reindeer line, Santa Bell was a Dutch horse at the 1936 Olympics, and the horse Santa Fe competed in equestrian for Argentina in both 1948 and 1952.

So what about those reindeer – any of them compete in the Olympics that we know of? Well, we’re not too sure of that, with no reindeer events, but it appears that Santa named his reindeer after a group of Olympians. It is also possible that the trainer of his reindeer is the 2012 Dutch beach volleyball player Reinder Nummerdor.

Six time Olympic fencing champion Rudolf Kárpáti was a soldier in the Hungarian Army during Hungary’s communist era so perhaps he is the “Rudolf the Red” to lead the team.

Australian hockey player Barry Dancer and Helmuth Donner, the Austrian high jumper are easy picks and maybe you could just get away with choosing Uruguayan basketball star Carlos Blixen to the reindeer roster – but then you have to get a little more creative.

Usain Bolt seems a good choice for Dasher,, or you may prefer the Swiss ski jumping brothers Hans and Andreas Däscher. Valegro, the horse that in partnership with Charlotte Dujardin won dressage gold in 2012, might make a good Prancer and it’s fortunate that the nickname of cross-country skier Gunnar Samuelsson (1960) happened to be Comet.

Since a Vixen is a female fox then Jess Fox, the canoe slalom medallist from 2012, can be recruited with little difficulty which just leaves us with one position to fill.

Cupid was difficult, very difficult, but if you know your mythology you know that Cupid was the Roman counterpart to the Greek God Eros. This gives us a tenuous excuse to pick Italian cyclist Eros Poli to complete our team.

So there you have it – we’ll keep searching and if we confirm relationships to Santa Claus, or his reindeer, we’ll let you know. (With thanx to Hilary Evans, Jeroen Heijmans, Ralf Regnitter, and all the OlyMADMen)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, and Happy Holidays to all – and to all a good night.

Bidding for Summer and Winter Olympic Games

And so it has come to this – Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China are the two remaining candidate cities to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Almaty was formerly known as Alma-Ata when Kazakhstan was a Soviet Republic, and was known as Verniy in the years before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Beijing is an interesting choice for a number of reasons. First of all, Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. No city has ever hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics and many people think it would not be feasible to do so. However, if you have been to Beijing, and traveled to the Great Wall, you know that high mountains and very cold weather are only 50-70 km outside of the city. If you want to see steep mountains, try hiking up some sections of the Great Wall sometime.

Since it seems so unusual, has any city ever bid to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics prior to Beijing? In fact, it has happened and far more frequently than you would imagine.

We must discuss one aberration which are the 1956 Equestrian Games. The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia, which had strict animal quarantine laws and required the 1956 equestrian events to be moved to another country and city, which turned out to be Stockholm, Sweden. But there was a bid for that hosting responsibility, and Berlin, Los Angeles, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro also bid for the 1956 equestrian games.

So now we have three different types of possible Games bids – Summer, Winter, and Equestrian. One city, Stockholm, has sorta bid for all versions of the Olympics. It hosted the Summer Olympics in 1912, the Equestrian Olympics in 1956, bid for the Summer Games in 1952 and 2004, and put in a preliminary bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but withdrew that in January 2014 because of lack of governmental support.

Four cities also bid for the Summer and Equestrian Olympics – Berlin, Los Angeles, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro – all the losing bid cities for the 1956 Equestrian Games.

However, most importantly, 6 cities have bid for both the Summer and Winter Olympics, of which Beijing is only the most recent. Here is the full list of cities that have bid for both versions of the Olympics:

City NOC Ssn Yr1 Yr2 Yr3 Yr4 Yr5
Beijing CHN S 2000 2008
W 2022
Helsinki FIN S 1936 1940 1944 1952
W 2006
Minneapolis USA S 1948 1952 1956
W 1932
Montréal CAN S 1940 1944 1956 1972 1976
W 1932 1936 1944 1956
München FRG S 1972
W 2018
Torino ITA S 1908
W 2006

No city has ever won the bid to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics, but all but one of the above cities have hosted one Olympics – Summer by Beijing in 2008, Helsinki in 1952, Montréal in 1976, München in 1972; and Winter by Torino in 2006. The lone exception is Minneapolis, Minnesota, which bid for three Summer Olympics and one Winter Olympics, but has yet to see Olympic Rings in their city.

Can Beijing do it? With only two cities, they should have at least a 50% chance, and their ratings by the IOC Evaluation Commission were far higher than those for Almaty. (Oslo, Norway, which recently turned the chance to bid, had the highest ratings of all.) The bid will be announced on 31 July 2015 at the IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Stay tuned.