The best and worst of Olympic mascots

Yesterday, the still unnamed mascot of the Rio 2016 Olympics was presented to the world. As always, the responses are mixed, some calling it “a yellow cat-like thing“, others declaring it “cute, cuddly and capable of brining in hundreds of millions in revenue“, while it reminds some of us here of Top Cat.

The new Olympic (left) and Paralympic mascots – still to be named.

A mascot is originally a good luck charm, which was also its original role at the Olympics. For the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, a skier named Schuss made its appearance. The stylized man was created unofficially for the Games. The first official mascot followed four years later, in Munich: a colored dachshund named Waldi. The marathon course that year was modelled to look like the profile of the dog. From Innsbruck 1976, where Schneemann was used to ensure a snow-filled Games, all Olympics have had mascots. Besides a good luck charm, they’ve figured in opening ceremonies, are used for distraction during breaks and – of course – to boost the sales of Olympic memorabilia.

In true OlympStats style, we could present you a list of all Olympic mascots here, but there’s several places on the web that already do a comendable job. In particular, the IOC has two reference documents (Summer, Winter) that extensively describe and depict all mascots.

So, instead I’ve listed my personal top three of best and worst Olympic mascots.

Top 3 best Olympic mascots

My favorite Olympic mascot: Hodori from Seoul 1988.

  1. Hodori 1988 – a tiger with a Korean hat, is simple, not too cliché, and funny.
  2. Quatchi 2010 – based on the legendary sasquatch from native mythology, this furry little(?) fellow apparently still need to wear earmuffs.
  3. Misha 1980 – the first mascot to be widely used, Misha is simple but very recognizable.

Top 3 worst Olympic mascots

Worst Olympic mascot by a clear margin: Atlanta 1996′s Izzy

  1. Izzy 1996 – probably the most ridiculed Olympic mascot of all time, its original name was tellingly “Whatizit”. Still, nobody knows what it is.
  2. Wenlock 2012 – a droplet of steel with one eye, he loses out to Izzy due to fact his name is taken from the Much Wenlock Games, one of the source of inspiration for Pierre de Coubertin
  3. Magique 1992 – unlike the top entries, Magique is actually vagualy recognizble, described by the IOC as an “imp”. But despite its name, it fails to inspire me to view magical things.

Did I miss a horrible one? Gloss over the best mascot of all time? Feel free to let us know in the comments.

The IOC still consists mostly of grey-haired men, but is changing slowly

Yesterday, the IOC announced a set of recommendations for the future of the Olympic movement. Recommendation 37 calls for the possibility for IOC members to be granted exception to the maximum age rule, while Recommendation 11 calls to foster gender equality. So how is the IOC doing regarding age and gender equality?

When the IOC was founded in 1894, Pierre de Coubertin was 31 years old. This fit in well with the other 14 IOC members, of which the average age was just under 40, and the mean age 34.5 years.

Average age

The average age of IOC members since 1894.

Since then, the average age of IOC members has steadily grown (as has the number of members). In 1913, the average age was 50, and in 1942 it hit 60 for the first time. Save for a few dips, it has since remained steady between 60 and 65 years old. The number of IOC members under forty, which started at 9 out of 15 in 1894, remained low. In 1998, there were only 3.

Then, the bribery scandal surrounding the election of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics became public. In the aftermath of the scandal, the IOC decided to ban several members, establish an age limit of 70 for new members (and 80 for existing ones as of 1999) and add a group of athletes members. These measures increased the number of young members to 13, and lowered the average age noticeably. Currently, the average age is set to drop below 60 for the first time since 1958. A further drop is to be expected, as still 29 members over 70 are in the IOC, but that number is decreasing. By adopting recommendation 37, it is possible that the average age goes back up again, which hopefully is not a goal of the IOC 2020 plans.

João Havelange was one of the all-time oldest IOC members when he resigned in 2011 at age 95.

Looking at gender equality, which the IOC hopes to achieve in female participation and through mixed events, the IOC still has some way to go to achieve gender equality among its members. It wasn’t until 1981 that the first women joined the IOC. Since then, the number of women has risen slowly, and currently they make up less than a quarter of its members. Of these, a significant percentage are athlete members, which are typically only a member for one or two Olympiads.

Women in IOC

The percentage of female IOC members since 1981.

So, besides stimulating female athletes, the IOC would do well to also stimulate women taking up administrative positions in sports. Or will that have to wait for Agenda 2030?

IOC vice-president Nawal El-Moutawakel (a former hurdles champion) is the highest ranked women in the IOC at the moment.

Lights, Camera, Olympic Games

This week the film “Foxcatcher” will be released in the United States and already the word is that it may figure prominently in the nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards. The story surrounding the death of US Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz at the hands of paranoid-schizophrenic millionaire coach John du Pont has already gained critical plaudits especially for the performance of Steve Carrell as Du Pont.

There is a long history based on films based on the Olympic Games, or featuring Olympians, that goes way back into the mists of time. A few are regarded as classics of the silver screen; others are barely remembered at all. Let’s take a look at a selection of some of the more memorable movies based around the Olympic Games. These don’t include appearances by Olympians in acting roles in films without the Games as a central subject or documentaries. Those will be subjects of further posts in the near future.

The Ancient Olympics
Asterix at the Olympics (2008)
Live action version of the famous French cartoon book starring Gérard Depardieu which was released to coincide with the Beijing Olympics. Partly a sly parody of real life, much of the plot revolves around the use of a magic potion that is banned for the Olympic competitions.
It was badly received by critics and public alike.

1896 Athens
It Happened in Athens (1962)
Based extremely loosely around the events of the inaugural Olympic marathon, Jayne Mansfield plays an actress who announces that she will marry the winner of the race whilst safe in the knowledge that her lover, an army officer, is the clear favourite. The natural running talent of a young shepherd called Spyridon Louis complicates the matter. The film was a flop when it came out and did irreparable damage to the careers of the lead actors. It featured a cameo from two time decathlon champion Bob Mathias.

1912 Stockholm
Jim Thorpe All-American (1951)
Burt Lancaster stars in the title role as the Native American who, apart from being the greatest all-round athlete on the planet, played professional American football and baseball. Thorpe himself appears in a cameo role as a coach. The film covers his exploits in Stockholm but also the triumphs and tragedies in his life and sporting career from high school to the year of the movie’s release.
It was a box office success at the time of its release.

1924 Paris
Chariots of Fire (1981)

Probably the benchmark in Olympic movies, the movie tells the tale of British sprinters Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Liddell was the 400 metre champion in Paris before becoming a Christian missionary in China whilst the story of Abrahams, the 100 metre champion at the same Games, is set across a background of anti-Semitism and the British class system. A winner of 3 Oscars including best picture, it is also memorable for the score by Greek composer Vangelis.

1936 Berlin
Race (2016)
This is the one film in this list that has yet to be released. Filming began on this telling of the Jesse Owens story earlier this year. Starring Canadian actor Stephan James as Owens with Jeremy Irons as future IOC President Avery Brundage, the film is due for release in April 2016.

Berlin 1936 (2009)
“Berlin 1936” takes the story of Gretel Bergman and Dora Ratjen at the Berlin Olympics as a starting point even if most of the story bares little relation to the true events of 1936. In the film Marie Ketteler, a fictionalized version of Ratjen, is a man used by the Nazis to challenge Bergman, the Jewish athlete, for a place on the German team in the high jump. In real life, whether the authorities knew that Ratjen had an intersex condition is still a matter for conjecture.
The film was a modest success in financial terms.

1952 Oslo
Schwere Jungs 2006 (Heavyweights)
A low budget film based, if very loosely, on the story of the heavyweight German bobsleigh crew that won two gold medals at the Oslo Olympics.

1956 Melbourne
Geordie (1955)
A gentle British romantic comedy about a skinny young Scots boy who, with a help of a Charles Atlas type bodybuilding course, turns himself into a champion hammer thrower. He’s unable to perform well until he wears his father’s kilt in competition. This trick turns him from an also ran into the Olympic champion.

Szabadság, Szerelem (Children of Glory) (2006)
Using fictional lead characters and including a romantic subplot, the film weaves in the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956 with the Hungarian water polo’s Olympic campaign and, in particular, “The Blood in the Water Match” between Hungary and the USSR in Melbourne.

1964 Tokyo
Walk Don’t Run (1966)

You can just imagine the conversation that led to the making of this film.
“O.K. Whatcha got?”
“Well, it’s a romantic comedy based on the accommodation shortage at the Tokyo Olympics”
“And the romantic lead is a race walker”
“This isn’t promising”
“But we got Cary Grant”
“And there’s a cameo from the guy who plays Sulu in Star Trek”
“What’s Star Trek?”
“Ah well, it hasn’t been made yet but, trust me, it’s going to be big”
“That settles it, go ahead and make the film”
The story concerns a secretary at the British Embassy who lets out half her apartment to a British businessman, played by Grant, who sublets to the American walker. The rest of the film revolves around Grant’s attempt to get the pair together romantically.

1968 Grenoble
Downhill Racer 1969
Robert Redford stars as an egotistic American skier who clashes with team mates and official alike.
Of course he gets things together to win the Olympic title.

1972 Munich
Prefontaine (1997)
Without Limits (1998)
Two biopics of American distance runner Steve Prefontaine were released within a year of each other. Both portray Prefontaine as a maverick, headstrong but naturally gifted runner though they are told from different viewpoints. “Prefontaine” was told through the eyes of assistant coach Bill Dellinger whilst “Without Limits” has legendary coach Bill Bowerman as the focus of the film.
“Without Limits” was generally the better reviewed of the pair though both were major box office flops.

Munich (2005)
Stephen Spielberg directed and produced this film which dealt with the aftermath of the murder of members of the Israeli team in 1972. It traces the attempts of a group of Israeli agents to track down and assassinate members of the Black September terrorist group responsible for the massacre.
Although nominated for five Academy Awards, it failed to win in any category.

1980 Lake Placid
Miracle (2004)

This is a retelling of the story of the unlikely victory of the US ice hockey team at the Lake Placid Olympics with Kurt Russell in the lead role of coach Herb Brooks. It’s basically another mismatched band of individuals fashioned into a team by an inspirational coach story but, in this case, done with more than usual style and attention to detail. It made $64,000,000 at the box office which was more than twice the production costs.

1988 Calgary
Cool Runnings (1993)

A heavily fictionalized version of the story of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team starring Canadian comedian John Candy as a coach very loosely based on US champion Howard Siler. Played heavily for comedy, it became a smash hit and the most successful in box office terms of any film on this list.
The profits from the film now approach $200,000,000.

1988 Seoul
Jappeloup (2013)
This is a French film which traces the story of Pierre Durand, the lawyer who gave up his career to aim for Olympic glory, and his partnership with the horse Jappeloup which took him to the Olympic Games of 1984 and 1988.
It traces his disappointments in Los Angeles and gold medal success in Seoul.
Amongst the cast are the well-known French actor Daniel Auteuil and Canada’s Donald Sutherland.
The film was a critical and commercial success in France.

1992 Albertville
The Cutting Edge 1992
A romantic comedy about a rich and spoilt female skater forced to team up with an ice hockey player in their quest for Olympic glory. A moderate success in cinemas, it gained a new round of popularity when shown on TV and spawned 3 sequels.

1998 Nagano
Take Off (2009)
Yet another film to be based on a true story but which includes plot lines which are completely fictitious.
The story of the founding of a South Korean ski jumping team to compete at the Nagano Olympics soared to success in Korea although it made little progress outside its own country.

2004 Athens
Forever the Moment (2008)
Probably the only major film to centre on women’s handball, the film traces the Korean team on the way to the final of the 2004 Athens Olympics. A relatively formulaic adaptation of a familiar theme of a team of individuals bonding together under an inspirational coach, it was a big success in Korea

Bob Tisdall

Hurdler, Gold Medalist, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Australia

Category Data
Full Name Robert Morton Newburgh "Bob" Tisdall
Used Name Bob Tisdall
Nickname The Irish Wonder
Born 16 May 1907; Nuwara Eliya (SRI)
Died 27 July 2004; Nambour-Queensland (AUS)
Measurements 186 cm / 74 kg
Affiliations Achilles Club (GBR)
Year-Games Sport Event Place Medal
1932 Summer Athletics 400 metres Hurdles 1 Gold
Decathlon 8

A year before the 1932 Olympics, nobody would have even considered Bob Tisdall for the Olympic gold in the 400 m hurdles. While a decent sprinter and high hurdler at Cambridge University, where he majored in agriculture and forestry, Tisdall had never contested the event until, early in 1932, he asked the president of the Irish NOC to send him to Los Angeles for that event. He met the qualifying standard in his second attempt, winning the Irish championship in the event. In 1931 Tisdall had won four events in the Oxbridge meet – the 440 yards, long jump, shot put, and 120 yard hurdles. He was Irish champion in the 120 yard hurdles in 1930 and in the 440 yards hurdles in 1932, but he was not considered of world caliber. But once in Los Angeles, Tisdall was unbeatable. In the final, he even bettered the world record to win the gold medal. He received the medal, but not the record, as Tisdall had knocked over the final hurdle, which was not allowed by the rules of the day for record purposes.

Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Ireland and educated in England, Tisdall emigrated to South Africa at the end of 1933 and while there helped to form the South African-Irish Regiment during World War II. He later lived in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Kenya and Tanzania before returning to Ireland and eventually settling in Nambour, in Queensland, Australia. He participated in the torch relay for the Sydney Olympics, aged 93.

Personal Bests: 400H – 51.67 (1932); Dec – 6398 (1932).

Unrecognized states at the Olympics

Last week, the IOC announced it had provisionally recognized the NOC of Kosovo, making it possible for the breakaway nation to compete in Rio 2016.  Kosovo is now one of three nations not broadly recognized by UN-members to be affiliated with the IOC, after the Republic of China (which is a member under the name of Chinese Taipei) and Palestine (which is a UN-observer since 2012).

Despite its status, Kosovo already has some Olympic history, as do various other un-recognized states in the world. We’ll explore that history below. To determine this countries on this list, we have re-used the criteria as used in the Wikipedia article “List of states with limited recognition“. These criteria hold that the country should either be recognized by at least one UN member state, or it should meet the definition of statehood formed in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.


Officially, Abkhazia is the north-western tip of Georgia. In practice, the republic seceded after a brief war in the early 1990s. In the wake of the South Ossetia War during the Beijing Olympics, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia. In addition to Russia, only Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru have recognized the Caucasian nation.

Several Abkhazians have competed in the Olympics. The most famous is three-time triple jump champion Viktor Saneyev, who was born in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. Saneyev won Olympic gold in 1968, 1972 and 1976, ending his Olympic career with a silver in Moscow 1980. At those same Olympics, another Sukhumi-born athlete won gold: volleyball player Vladimir Dorokhov. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, several Abkhaz-born competitors have represented Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

Marika Pertakhiya was the only competitor of Abkhaz descent competing in Sochi, just kilometers from the Abkhaz border.

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics opened in Fisht Stadium, just a few kilometers from the Russian-Abkhaz border. Abkhazia was not allowed to compete, but one Abkhaz-born athlete competed: freestyle skier Marika Pertakhiya. This even caused a minor incident, as the Sochi official site originally listed her place of birth as Gali, Republic of Abkhazia, Russia – which was corrected to Gali, Republic of Abkhazia, Georgia after complaints of the Georgian Olympic Committee.


Kosovo is populated largely by people of Albanian descent. They have attempted to gain independence since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1992. The conflict with Serbia came to a head in 1999, when NATO intervened and the area eventually came under United Nations administration. The Republic of Kosovo declared its independence of Serbia in 2008, which has met with broad but far from universal recognition.

Kelmendi, judo world champion, is Kosovo’s best known athlete.

A group of IFs has recognized Kosovo (archery, judo, sailing, table tennis and modern pentathlon), while others have granted provisional or associate membership. This has led to the IOC recognizing the Kosovan NOC.  Previously, the IOC declined Kosovan athletes the right to compete as Individual Olympic Athletes under the Olympic Flag. At the London 2012 Olympics, this forced judoka Maljinda Kelmendi to represent Albania. In 2013, she won the world title as a Kosovan.

Prior to Kelmendi, several Kosovars had already competed at the Olympics. For example, the football team that won the gold medal in 1960 featured three players born in what is now Kosovo (Milutin Šoškić, Vladimir Durković and Fahrudin Jusufi). Boxer Aziz Salihu won a bronze in Los Angeles 1984. Two Kosovo-born athletes who fled the country have also won bronze medals, both for Germany: Luan Krasniqi (boxing) and Lira Bajramaj (football).


De jure part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of which 95% of the population is ethnically Armenian. This has frequently led to disputes, culminating in a declaration of independence in 1991. A three year war followed, which ended with a cease-fire that left Nagorno-Karabakh effectively independent but unrecognized by the international community.

Kifayət Qasımova, the most recent Olympian from Nagorno-Karabach.

While Nagorno-Karabakh has national football team – it’s first match was a 1-1 draw with Abkhazia – there are few international sporting achievements to be mentioned. We’ve been able to trace two Olympians who were born in the area that is claimed as part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Wrestler Nelson Davydian won a silver medal in 1976, although he moved out of Nagorno Karabach to Chechnya (and later Ukraine) as a child. Kifayət Qasımova, a judoka at the 2008 and 2012 Games, was also born in what is now Nagorno-Karabach controlled territory.

Northern Cyprus

Cyprus became independent from the United Kingdom in 1960, but after a coup attempt in 1974 by the Greek junta, Turkey invaded the island in order to protect the Turkish-Cypriot citizens. It captured the northern third of the island, and in 1975 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was officially proclaimed. Only recognized internationally by Turkey, the nation is heavily dependent on Turkey.

Meliz Redif (right) is the first Northern Cypriot Olympian.

The state has a National Olympic Committee, but it is not recognized by the IOC. Cyprus itself did not compete in the Olympics until 1980, but various Cypriot competitors have worn Greek colors since 1896. Some of these came from what is now Northern Cyprus, such as Famagusta, but these were all Greek-Cypriots. In 2012, the first Turkish-Cypriot athlete competed at the Olympics, unsurprisingly representing Turkey. Meliz Redif was a member of the Turkish 4×400 m relay team that was eliminated in the semi-finals. A more famous Olympian with ties to Northern Cyprus is British javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread. A medallist in 1984 and 1988, she was born to a Greek-Cypriot mother and a Turkish-Cypriot father.

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

An insurgence in the Spanish colony of Western (or Spanish) Sahara saw Spain forced to withdraw from the territory in 1976. Despite a judgment from the International Court of Justice, Spain had agreed to cede parts of the land to both Morocco and Mauritania. Independence fighters of the Polisario movement declared independence and managed to oust the Mauritanians. A cease-fire between the Moroccos and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic holds since 1991, but the plan to hold a referendum on independence has not been executed.

Blind Paralympic swimmer Enhamed Enhamed, the most successful athlete from Sahrawi.

While Sahrawi does have an unrecognised national football team, we are unaware of an Olympic committee, or of any Olympic athletes with a Sahrawi background. Runner Salah Ameidan was a part of the Moroccan team until he unfurled the outlawed Sahrawi flag at a race in France. He hopes to represent his nation in Rio de Janeiro, but chances that he will succeed are small. At the 2008 Paralympics, the blind swimmer Enhamed Enhamed, who is of Sahrawi descent but was born in Spain, won four gold medals.


The northern part of Somalia, Somaliland declared independence when the central government in Somalia collapsed in 1991. While the separatist government has firm control over its territory, it remains unrecognized by the international community. The provisional Somaliland National Olympic Committee, founded in late 2013, shares that fate.

Abdi Bile won the 1,500 m in the 1987 World Championships.

Records on the origins of athletes from Somalia are very much incomplete, but we are aware of at least one competitor born in the territory of Somaliland. The 1987 World Champion over 1,500 m track, Abdi Bile, was born in Las Anod. In 1996 he placed 6th in the Olympic final. The family of two-time Olympic champion in track running, Mo Farah, also hails from Somaliland, and Farah has celebrated some of his victories by carrying a Somaliland flag.

South Ossetia

The situation in South Ossetia is quite similar to that in Abkhazia. South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1991. A war ensued, which was ended by a ceasefire the following year. The conflict flared up in 2004 and 2008, with Russia supporting Ossetian forces on the latter occasion. Like Abkhazia, only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru recognize the mountainous state.

Although competing for the Unified Team and Greece, Akakios Kakiasvili is the most successful athlete out of South Ossetia.

South Ossetia excels in sports requiring physical strength. Its first native we’ve traced at the Olympics is wrestler Alimbeg Bestayev, who won a bronze for the Soviet Union in 1956; he was later joined by wrestling medalists Besik Kudukhov (Russia) and Gennady Laliyev (Kazakhstan). Shota Chochishvili (USSR) won a gold medal in judo in 1972. The top Olympian born in South Ossetia, however, is Georgian-Greek weightlifter weightlifter Akakios Kakiasvili, a three-time Olympic champion (for the Unified Team and Greece).


Transnistria, a sliver of land east of the Dniestr river, seceded from Moldova during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A brief 1992 war saw Soviet troops support the Transnistrians, and a ceasefire was signed, de facto granting Transnistria self-control.

Quite a few Olympians hail from what is now Transnistria, chiefly from its capital city Tiraspol. The first of them was volleyball player Valentyna Myshak, who won silver with the USSR. The most successful is Larisa Aleksandrova-Popova, a rower, claiming gold an silver in rowing. Transnistrians have represented several countries since 1992, mostly Moldova. So far, one athlete has been born in “independent” Transnistria: backstroke swimmer Dănilă Artiomov, who competed in London.

Most Medals But No Golds

It is often said that an Olympian is unlucky when they finish fourth – see our previous post on “The Unluckiest Olympians” from 18 June 2014. But what about those Olympians who win medals, but never get to mount the top step, winning a gold medal? Which Olympians have won the most Olympic medals, but never won a gold medal? Here is the list of all those with 5 or more Olympic medals, but no golds:

Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport G S B TM
Franziska van Almsick F S GER SWI 0 4 6 10
Merlene Ottey-Page F S JAM ATH 0 3 6 9
Frank Beaurepaire M S ANZ/AUS SWI 0 3 3 6
Roald Larsen M W NOR SSK 0 2 4 6
Rintje Ritsma M W NED SSK 0 2 4 6
Piero D'Inzeo M S ITA EQU 0 2 4 6
Harri Kirvesniemi M W FIN CCS 0 0 6 6
Viktor Lisitsky M S URS GYM 0 5 0 5
Erika Zuchold F S GDR GYM 0 4 1 5
Anders Holmertz M S SWE SWI 0 4 1 5
Yang Yang (S) F W CHN STK 0 4 1 5
Miya Tachibana F S JPN SYN 0 4 1 5
Miho Takeda F S JPN SYN 0 4 1 5
László Cseh Jr. M S HUN SWI 0 3 2 5
Anita Moen-Guidon F W NOR CCS 0 3 2 5
Gustav Fischer M S SUI EQU 0 3 2 5
Fredric Landelius M S SWE SHO 0 3 2 5
Østen Østensen M S NOR SHO 0 3 2 5
Fritz Feierabend M W SUI BOB 0 3 2 5
Li Jiajun M W CHN STK 0 2 3 5
Gina Gogean F S ROU GYM 0 2 3 5
Aino-Kaisa Saarinen F W FIN CCS 0 2 3 5
William Merz M S USA GYM 0 1 4 5
Edvin Wide M S SWE ATH 0 1 4 5
Arianna Fontana F W ITA STK 0 1 4 5
Phil Edwards M S CAN ATH 0 0 5 5
Antje Buschschulte F S GER SWI 0 0 5 5
Arie de Jong M S NED FEN 0 0 5 5

Franziska van Almsick

Very tough for both Franziska van Almsick and Merlene Ottey-Page, and interesting that two women lead the list – and quite easily at that.

There are 11 women and 17 men in the above list, with 9 Winter Olympians, and 19 Summer Olympians. In all, 11 different sports/disciplines are represented, as follows: Athletics, Bobsledding, Cross-Country Skiing, Equestrian, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Short-Track Speed Skating, Speed Skating, Swimming, and Synchronized Swimming.

What about the goal of winning an individual gold medal and who has come the closest to that without ever winning one? In all 31 Olympians have won 4 or more individual Olympic medals, without ever winning an individual gold. Merlene Ottey-Page leads this list, which is as follows:

Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport IG IS IB ITM
Merlene Ottey-Page F S JAM ATH 0 2 5 7
Eizo Kenmotsu M S JPN GYM 0 3 3 6
Yury Titov M S URS GYM 0 3 3 6
Roald Larsen M W NOR SSK 0 2 4 6
Shirley Babashoff F S USA SWI 0 5 0 5
László Cseh Jr. M S HUN SWI 0 3 2 5
Uschi Disl F W GER BIA 0 2 3 5
Sofiya Muratova F S URS GYM 0 2 3 5
Masao Takemoto M S JPN GYM 0 2 3 5
Rintje Ritsma M W NED SSK 0 2 3 5
William Merz M S USA GYM 0 1 4 5
Hryhoriy Misiutin M S EUN/UKR GYM 0 4 0 4
Frankie Fredericks M S NAM ATH 0 4 0 4
Ivica Kostelić M W CRO ASK 0 4 0 4
Shuji Tsurumi M S JPN GYM 0 3 1 4
Frank Gailey M S AUS SWI 0 3 1 4
Adam Małysz M W POL SKJ 0 3 1 4
Paula Jean Myers-Pope F S USA DIV 0 3 1 4
Marlies Schild F W AUT ASK 0 3 1 4
Igor Basinsky M S BLR/URS SHO 0 2 2 4
Franco Cagnotto M S ITA DIV 0 2 2 4
Dara Torres F S USA SWI 0 1 3 4
Pavel Lednyov M S URS MOP 0 1 3 4
Frank Beaurepaire M S ANZ/AUS SWI 0 1 3 4
Edvin Wide M S SWE ATH 0 1 3 4
Teddy Billington M S USA CYC 0 1 3 4
Ato Boldon M S TTO ATH 0 1 3 4
Leo Visser M W NED SSK 0 1 3 4
Yordan Yovchev M S BUL GYM 0 1 3 4
Yelena Välbe F W EUN/RUS CCS 0 0 4 4

Merlene Ottey-Page

Of the 31, only 8 are women, possibly because there have been fewer Olympic events for women. By seasons, 8 are Winter Olympians and 23 Summer Olympians. There are 12 sports represented in this list, which are slightly different than the first list: Alpine Skiing, Athletics, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, Cycling, Diving, Gymnastics, Modern Pentathlon, Shooting, Ski Jumping, Speed Skating, and Swimming.

Of the above, only a few athletes are still competing, and those that are are no longer competitive at the highest levels, so there should be nobody leaving the two lists.

Countries winning medals in just a single sport

The best performing countries, such as the US, the major European nations and, in recent decades, China, earn medals in a large variety of sports. Other countries, however are very dependent on a single sport to earn their medals.

Hanni Wenzel is the most successful Olympic athlete from Liechtenstein.

In all, 41 nations have only won medals in a single sport. In 27 of these cases, this is not a very interesting finding, as these are countries which have only ever won a single Olympic medal. Looking at the remaining 14 nations with at least two medals, Ethiopia clearly stands out. The nation’s long distance runners have racked up a total of 45 Olympic medals. Apart from the track, Ethiopia’s best Olympic result is a quarter-final spot (=5th place) for boxer Chanyalew Haile in 1972. Second in line, with 9 medals, is Liechtenstein, which has won all of its medals in alpine skiing. The tiny Alpine nation is also the only country to have only medaled in the Winter Olympics.

Frankie Fredericks has won all four of Namibia’s Olympic medals.

The rest of the nations in the list have largely depended on a single athlete to win their medals. For example, Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks won four silver medals in the 1990s.

Country Sport Medals
Ethiopia Athletics 45
Liechtenstein Alpine Skiing 9
Costa Rica Swimming 4
Namibia Athletics 4
Independent Olympic Athletes Shooting 3
Panama Athletics 3
Afghanistan Taekwondo 2
Ecuador Athletics 2
Kuwait Shooting 2
Mozambique Athletics 2
Sri Lanka Athletics 2
Suriname Swimming 2
Tanzania Athletics 2
West Indies Federation Athletics 2

If we expand our view slightly, we could look at the percentage of medals won by a nation in a single sport. Ignoring the 41 nations already mentioned, we get two more track and field giants at the top. Sprint island Jamaica has only ever won a single medal outside athletics, by David Weller in track cycling. Kenya, a long distance running nation like Ethiopia, has won seven medals in boxing.

One of Kenya’s first long distance stars was Kipchoge Keino.

The only nations that have won more than 100 medals which owe more than a third of their medals to a single sport are Australia, which has earned 37.6% of their medals in the swimming pool, and Austria, which collected 114 medals (35.2%) in alpine skiing.

Country Sport Medals Total medals  %
Jamaica Athletics 66 67 98.5%
Kenya Athletics 79 86 91.9%
Zimbabwe Swimming 7 8 87.5%
Morocco Athletics 19 22 86.4%
Bahamas Athletics 10 12 83.3%
Malaysia Badminton 5 6 83.3%
Pakistan Hockey 8 10 80.0%
Trinidad & Tobago Athletics 14 18 77.8%
Ghana Boxing 3 4 75.0%
Lebanon Wrestling 3 4 75.0%
Peru Shooting 3 4 75.0%
Puerto Rico Boxing 6 8 75.0%
Singapore Table Tennis 3 4 75.0%

All but one of Zimbabwe’s medals have been won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.

When Olympic boxing champions meet for the World Heavyweight Championships

On the 30th of October 1974 George Foreman, the reigning professional heavyweight boxing champion of the world, stepped into a ring in Kinshasa, Zaire to defend his title against former champion Muhammad Ali. What happened next has entered sporting folklore as arguably the most famous fight of all time, the Rumble in the Jungle.


But of course as this is a blog concerning the Olympic Games we’ll choose to dwell on another aspect of the match – that of it being one of the rare instances where two Olympic champions have fought each other for the World Heavyweight title. Boxing became an Olympic sport in 1904 and, with the exception of 1912, has remained in the Games ever since but in that span of 110 years only ten times have two Olympic champions met for what is regularly described as “the greatest prize in professional sport”.

So when exactly has this happened? The answer is below. The list is restricted to generally accepted versions of the titles. Of the 10 instances documented, 6 involve Muhammad Ali.

#1 22/8/1957 Floyd Patterson KO 6 Pete Rademacher
Floyd Patterson, the champion at middleweight in Helsinki in 1952 at just 17, became the youngest ever heavyweight champion whilst still only 21. As many of the leading contenders for the title were under the control of the International Boxing Club of New York (which had links to organised crime) Patterson’s handlers shied from fighting them and were inventive in choosing opponents.
Pete Rademacher had won the heavyweight gold medal at the Melbourne Games nine months before he faced Patterson for the title and, amazingly, this was to be his professional debut. Rademacher started well, winning the first round then putting Patterson on the canvas in the second but Patterson recovered and battered his way to an emphatic six round victory.

#2 22/11/1965 Muhammad Ali TKO 12 Floyd Patterson
Patterson, having lost his world title via a crushing defeat to Sonny Liston had rebounded well enough to earn a shot at Muhammad Ali, who as Cassius Clay, had won the Olympic light-heavyweight title in 1960. Patterson injured his back in training but refused to pull out of the fight. Accepted history records that Ali “mocked, humiliated and punished Patterson throughout before knocking him out in the 12th round” but an interview with Ali conducted post-fight revealed that Ali, knowing Floyd was in serious pain through his injury, backed off and waited for the fight to be stopped or for Patterson to retire.

#3 8/3/1971 Joe Frazier Pts 15 Muhammad Ali
“The Fight of the Century”, as it was called, pitted Ali, who was back in the ring after being stripped of his belt and suspended after refusing the draft, with the 1964 Olympic heavyweight champion, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier. It was a fight that lived up to the hype as the two men traded blow for blow before a celebrity studded Madison Square Garden crowd. Frazier scored a knockdown in the final round to seal victory.

Ali-Frazier I

#4 22/1/1973 George Foreman TKO 2 Joe Frazier
Kingston, Jamaica saw the “Immovable Object”, reigning heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, go head to head with the “Irresistible Force” in the shape of 1968 Olympic heavyweight champion George Foreman. Unfortunately for him, Frazier proved all too movable and mostly in the downwards direction. The champion was sent to the canvas six times before the referee proclaimed Foreman the winner. In American television this fight was famous for Howard Cosell, announcing it, who kept proclaiming, after each knockdown, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”. This was the 1st time two Olympic heavyweight champions had met for the professional heavyweight title.

#5 30/10/1974 Muhammad Ali KO 8 George Foreman
This is where we came in. In the unlikely setting of a football stadium in downtown Kinshasa, Zaire, one of the famous events not just in boxing but in all sports, took place. Foreman, considered a monster of the ring, was the clear favourite against the older Ali but after dominating the early exchanges he ran out of steam and Ali took advantage to record a stunning knockout victory. 40 years later it remains a landmark in sporting history.

#6 1/10/1975 Muhammad Ali TKO 14 Joe Frazier
Ali and Frazier had fought a rematch in 1974 with Ali gaining revenge via a unanimous points decision. After Ali regained the heavyweight title later that year it became inevitable that a third match between the two would take place. The fight would take place in Manila in October 1975 and is widely considered to be one of the best, and certainly most brutal, bouts in history. In the 14th round, with both men nearing the point of total exhaustion, Ali unleashed a devastating series of punches which led to Frazier retiring in his corner between rounds. Neither man was ever the same again. The two men had been mutually antagonistic throughout their careers but after the fight Ali commented – “Fighting Joe Frazier is the closest to death I can ever imagine. If I’m ever called to a Holy War I want Joe Frazier fighting besides me.”

#7 15/2/1978 Leon Spinks Pts 15 Muhammad Ali
#8 15/9/1978 Muhammad Ali Pts 15 Leon Spinks

Now in the twilight of his career, Ali arranged what seemed like a routine defence against the 1976 Olympic light-heavyweight champion Leon Spinks. In the first meeting Spinks turned up fit and hungry and in only his 8th professional fight used his youth and fitness to finish strongly and win a split decision victory over a subdued and listless Ali. Seven months later and the tide had turned in the favour of the old champion. Spinks, by then in the early stages of drink and drug dependency, was easily outpointed by a better prepared Ali.

Ali-Spinks II

#9 16/3/2002 Wladimir Klitscho TKO 6 Ray Mercer
After a gap of 23 years two Olympic champions stepped into the ring to battle for the heavyweight title once again in 2002. The occasion was a defence of the WBO title by Ukrainian Wladimir Klitscho, the 1996 Olympic super-heavyweight gold medal winner, against Ray Mercer, winner of the Olympic title at heavyweight back in 1988. The 41 year old Mercer was expected to be little more than a sacrificial victim for the younger man and that’s exactly how it turned out. The referee stepped in to protect Mercer from further punishment in round 6.

#10 5/10/2013 Wladimir Klitscho Pts 12 Aleksandr Povetkin
The bout matched Wladimir Klitscho, who held the IBF and WBO world titles as well as the WBA “Super-World” title with Alexander Povetkin of Russia who merely held the WBA “regular” World Heavyweight title (confusing, but that’s modern professional boxing…). Anyone who’s ever read a comic book will tell you that Superman always beat Regularman and that is exactly what happened in their bout in Moscow. Klitschko won every round and knocked his opponent down four times on his way to a totally one sided victory. He continues to be the best heavyweight in the world to this day.


Teófilo Stevenson

Boxer, multiple gold medalist, Cuban hero, greatest ever Olympic heavyweight

Category Data
Full Name Teófilo Stevenson Laurence
Used Name Teófilo Stevenson
Nicknames Pirolo
Born 29 March 1952; Puerto Padre (CUB)
Died 11 June 2012; La Habana (Havana) (CUB)
Measurements 190 cm / 95 kg
Medals Number
Gold 3
Silver 0
Bronze 0
Total 3
Year-Games Sport Event Place Medal
1972 Summer Boxing Heavyweight 1 Gold
1976 Summer Boxing Heavyweight 1 Gold
1980 Summer Boxing Heavyweight 1 Gold

It is safe to describe Téofilo Stevenson as the greatest heavyweight boxer never to be the world’s professional champion. In fact, Stevenson never even fought for the title because he never turned professional. Stevenson’s first international appearance was in 1971 at the Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia, where he lost a decision in the semi-finals to the United States’ Duane Bobick and took bronze.

In 1972 at München, Stevenson won a re-match with Bobick en route to winning his first Olympic gold medal, for which he was awarded the Val Barker Trophy as the top boxer at the Olympics. Stevenson also won the Olympic heavyweight gold medal in 1976 and 1980, making him one of only three men to win three Olympic boxing gold medals (Hungary’s László Papp and Félix Savón are the others). In addition, Stevenson won golds at the 1975 and 1979 Pan American Games, and was world amateur champion in 1974, 1978, and 1986.

It is likely that Stevenson would have won a fourth Olympic gold medal at Los Angeles, had the Cubans not boycotted the 1984 Olympics. American professional boxing promoters coveted Stevenson’s talent, his good looks, and body-builder like body. He was offered $5 million by professional promoters to fight Muhammad Ali, but never fought professionally. But he refused all entreaties to turn professional and remained an amateur to continue boxing for the honor of his country.

Bill Stevenson

Military hero, Rhodes Scholar, Gold Medalist, US Ambassador

Category Data
Full Name William Edwards "Bill" Stevenson
Used Name Bill Stevenson
Born 25 October 1900; Chicago (IL) (USA)
Died 2 April 1985; Fort Myers (FL) (USA)
Measurements 183 cm / 77 kg
Affiliations New York Athletic Club
Year-Games Sport Event Place Medal
1924 Summer Athletics 4 × 400 metres Relay 1 Gold

After leaving Phillips Andover Academy, Bill Stevenson served in the Marine Corps, winning the Bronze Star, and then entered Princeton in 1920. The following year he was ranked as the top quarter-miler in America and won the AAU 440y in 48.6, which proved to be the best time of his career. Later in the season he beat the reigning Olympic champion, Bevil Rudd, in the dual meet between Princeton/Cornell and Oxford/ Cambridge.

In 1923, Stevenson went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and placed second in the match against Cambridge before winning the British title. In the Olympic year he had a poor start to the season, finishing only third in the match against Cambridge and in the British championships, but he fully justified his selection for the Olympic relay team by turning a 2-meter deficit into a 5-meter advantage on the second leg. In 1925, his last year at Oxford, Stevenson finally won the quarter-mile against Cambridge and he closed his career back on American tracks with victories for the combined Oxford/Cambridge team against teams from Harvard/ Yale and Princeton/Cornell.

Bill Stevenson, who also represented Oxford at lacrosse, was admitted as a barrister-at-law in England in 1925 and in 1927 he became a member of the New York Bar. He eventually became a partner in the law firm of Deboise, Stevenson, Plimpton & Tage, and from 1946 until 1959 he served as president of Oberlin College. He also held numerous civic and government posts, the most distinguished of these being his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines from 1961 to 1964.

Personal Best: 400 – 48.3y (1921).