The Undefeated Olympians

They never lost. Not once. Not when the odds were against them, not when somebody else was favored, not when the weather was bad, not when they caught a bad break along the way, not when they were not feeling so well that day. They simply never lost. They are the undefeated Olympians.

Twenty-one (21) Olympians have won 4 or more gold medals, while going undefeated at the Olympics, winning in every event in which they competed. The list is below but it deserves some closer examination.

First of all, it’s almost evenly divided – there are 10 women and 11 men on the list. But it is not evenly divided by Olympics, as only Canadian ice hockey player Caroline Ouellette has ever done this at the Winter Olympics, a feat she accomplished in Sochi with her fourth consecutive gold medal (with thanx to NBCOlympicTalk’s Nick Zaccardi for spotting this  – and inspiring this stat post)

Caroline Ouellette

Secondly, most people did this spread out over several Olympics. Only American tracksters Alvin Kraenzlein (1900) and Jesse Owens (1936) and East German swimmer Kristin Otto (1988) accomplished this at a single Olympics, with Otto winning six gold medals in 1988. Six on this list took four Olympics to pull this off – Ray Ewry (1900-08), Rudolf Kárpáti (1948-60), Al Oerter (1956-68), Lisa Leslie (1996-2008), Matthew Pinsent (1992-2004), and Ouellette (2002-14).

Al_Oerter1

Al Oerter

Topping the list is Ray Ewry, and you could quibble and say that that includes 1906, but even if we skip 1906, he tops the list with 8 gold medals in 8 events in which he competed – all standing jumps.

RayEwry

Ray Ewry

Next comes Otto and Hungarian fencer Kárpáti with their six gold medals, followed by two names on the list that you may not have suspected, who won five gold medals – American shooter Bud Fisher, who competed in 1920-24, and Russian synchro swimmer Anastasiya Davydova, who competed 2004-12.

If we limit this list to undefeated in four individual events only, six names remain, five Americans and Otto. Ewry still leads the list with 10, or 8 if you are picky, followed by five athletes with 4 individual gold medals in 4 events – Kraenzlein (ATH; 1900), Oerter (ATH; 1956-68), Otto (SWI; 1988), Archie Hahn (ATH; 1904-06), and Pat McCormick (DIV; 1952-56).

G IG Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport
10 10 Ray Ewry M S USA ATH
6 4 Kristin Otto F S GDR SWI
6 2 Rudolf Kárpáti M S HUN FEN
5 2 Bud Fisher M S USA SHO
5 0 Anastasiya Davydova F S RUS SYN
4 4 Archie Hahn M S USA ATH
4 4 Al Kraenzlein M S USA ATH
4 4 Pat McCormick F S USA DIV
4 4 Al Oerter M S USA ATH
4 3 Jesse Owens M S USA ATH
4 2 Chen Ruolin F S CHN DIV
4 2 Deng Yaping F S CHN TTN
4 2 Harrison Dillard M S USA ATH
4 2 Bärbel Eckert-Wöckel F S GDR ATH
4 2 Jenő Fuchs M S HUN FEN
4 2 Viktor Krovopuskov M S URS FEN
4 2 Zhang Yining F S CHN TTN
4 0 Lisa Leslie F S USA BAS
4 0 Caroline Ouellette F W CAN ICH
4 0 Matthew Pinsent M S GBR ROW
4 0 Anastasiya Yermakova F S RUS SYN

Quite a list containing many of the greatest Olympians ever. Bob Barney, Canadian Olympic historian, likes to end some of his tributes to athletes or scholars, by stating, “All honor to his/her name.” In this case, no finer acclamation could be given, so I’ll borrow from Bob. All honor to their names.

5 thoughts on “The Undefeated Olympians”

  1. Only one at the winter Olympics?

    Wasn’t there one Eric Heiden, who won all five speedskating events at the 1980 games in Lake Placid, setting four Olympic records one one world record.

    Really bad omission!!!

    1. Its not an omission nor is it an error. Heiden competed at the 1976 Winter Olympics and did not win any medals there. So he was not undefeated.

  2. Hi there Mr Mallon! I’ve been a fan of the olympics for all my life, and have written loads of articles about them, plus a couple of book stuffed with olympic games trivia. I’d love to write a piece about the undefeated olympians, based on your article (I am a newspaper reporter in Kalmar, Sweden). Of course I will mention your name and thank you for giving me the inspiration. Is that ok with you?

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