Competing in Multiple Olympics

So we’ve had a few e-mails recently concerning how common it is for athletes to compete in more than one Olympic Games. On the “Mike and Mike” ESPN radio show they speculated that it was actually quite rare for Olympians to compete in more than one Olympics. Thus we decided to look at this in some detail.

Its not actually that rare and further, its becoming more and more common for athletes to compete in 2 or more Olympics. That is especially true of the Winter Olympics. We will only examine the Games since World War II, since the 12-year gap between 1936 and 1948 will skew all results, and this brings us closer to the modern era.

Here are the overall tables for both men and women Olympians at the Summer and Winter Olympics:

Summer Total 1G 2G 3G 4G 5G 6+G 1G 2+G
Totals 107696 80048 20001 5731 1449 348 119 74.3% 25.7%
Men 82256 62010 14625 4201 1071 263 86 75.4% 24.6%
Women 25440 18038 5376 1530 378 85 33 70.9% 29.1%
Winter Total 1G 2G 3G 4G 5G 6+G 1G 2+G
Totals 17459 11510 4059 1384 394 92 20 65.9% 34.1%
Men 12902 8607 2987 948 276 68 16 66.7% 33.3%
Women 4557 2903 1072 436 118 24 4 63.7% 36.3%

So its fairly common to compete in more than one Olympics, although overall only about 30% of Olympians get to a second Games. You’ll note, however, that Winter Olympians do it more frequently than summer Olympians – 34.1% to 25.7%. And women seem to come back to a second Olympics slightly more often than do men.

Here are the lists of the Games since 1948, comparing athletes who started at each Olympics, and competed in either 1 or 2 or more (2+) Olympics. We stopped at 2008 and 2010, since anyone who first competed in 2012 or 2014 could only have competed at one Olympics as of February 2016.

Year 1Games 2+Games Season
1948 73.8% 26.2% S
1952 79.9% 20.1% S
1956 70.5% 29.5% S
1960 73.8% 26.2% S
1964 73.7% 26.3% S
1968 69.4% 30.6% S
1972 75.1% 24.9% S
1976 76.1% 23.9% S
1980 79.6% 20.4% S
1984 71.3% 28.7% S
1988 67.7% 32.3% S
1992 66.6% 33.4% S
1996 64.8% 35.2% S
2000 64.2% 35.8% S
2004 61.9% 38.1% S
2008 67.2% 32.8% S
Year 1Games 2+Games Season
1948 74.6% 25.4% W
1952 71.4% 28.6% W
1956 72.1% 27.9% W
1960 61.5% 38.5% W
1964 66.5% 33.5% W
1968 68.7% 31.3% W
1972 64.9% 35.1% W
1976 67.0% 33.0% W
1980 65.5% 34.5% W
1984 61.4% 38.6% W
1988 61.1% 38.9% W
1992 49.4% 50.6% W
1994 56.8% 43.2% W
1998 52.0% 48.0% W
2002 51.6% 48.4% W
2006 54.5% 45.5% W
2010 53.8% 46.2% W

It is likely that the 2008 and 2010 numbers will eventually end up with a higher percentage for the 2+ Olympians, as some of those competing in 2008 and 2010 will likely compete in 2016 and 2018. The numbers seem to be increasing and if we look at a graph and determine a best fit for the numbers, its fairly obvious that more and more athletes are competing in 2 or more Olympics.

SummerMultiOlympians

And here is the graph for the Winter Olympics, where there is now almost equilibrium between 1-time Olympians and those competing in 2 or more Games.

WinterMultiOlympians

The biggest spike for the Winter Games occurs between 1992 and 1994, when the Winter Olympics had their only gap of 2 years between Games.

Now which sports are particularly suited to Olympians competed more than one time? This is as you would expect, with equestrian, fencing, and shooting figuring prominently. But there are a few surprises, and this time we will look at how often Olympians compete 4 or more times, and 6 or more times. Here is the list by sports for the Summer Games – this include all Olympics since 1896:

Sport 1Games 2+Games 4+Games 6+Games
Archery 76.0% 24.0% 2.4% 0.3%
Athletics (Track & Field) 72.3% 27.7% 1.6% 0.0%
Badminton 65.1% 34.9% 1.7% 0.0%
Baseball 85.7% 14.3% 0.3% 0.0%
Basketball 75.9% 24.1% 1.2% 0.0%
Beach Volleyball 65.7% 34.3% 1.6% 0.0%
Boxing 87.6% 12.4% 0.1% 0.0%
Canoe & Kayaking 66.9% 33.1% 3.2% 0.1%
Cycling 79.2% 20.8% 1.2% 0.1%
Diving 66.0% 34.0% 2.4% 0.0%
Equestrianism 70.4% 29.6% 4.3% 1.1%
Fencing 64.6% 35.4% 4.0% 0.2%
Football (Soccer) 92.5% 7.5% 0.2% 0.0%
Golf 99.0% 1.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Gymnastics (Artistic) 79.4% 20.6% 0.4% 0.0%
Handball 73.8% 26.2% 1.3% 0.0%
Hockey (Field) 69.5% 30.5% 1.3% 0.0%
Judo 72.0% 28.0% 1.5% 0.0%
Modern Pentathlon 74.2% 25.8% 1.3% 0.0%
Rhythmic Gymnastics 87.4% 12.6% 0.2% 0.0%
Rowing & Sculling 76.5% 23.5% 1.4% 0.1%
Rugby Football 95.5% 4.5% 0.0% 0.0%
Sailing (Yachting) 73.3% 26.7% 3.5% 0.3%
Shooting 68.9% 31.1% 5.0% 0.7%
Softball 76.0% 24.0% 1.1% 0.0%
Swimming 73.2% 26.8% 1.1% 0.0%
Synchronized Swimming 74.5% 25.5% 0.4% 0.0%
Table Tennis 57.4% 42.6% 7.5% 0.8%
Taekwondo 77.5% 22.5% 0.8% 0.0%
Tennis 69.1% 30.9% 1.7% 0.1%
Trampoline 53.4% 46.6% 4.1% 0.0%
Triathlon 66.3% 33.7% 1.0% 0.0%
Volleyball (Indoor) 72.7% 27.3% 1.6% 0.0%
Water Polo 67.0% 33.0% 2.8% 0.0%
Weightlifting 72.7% 27.3% 1.4% 0.0%
Wrestling 72.4% 27.6% 1.4% 0.0%

What’s up with table tennis, where over 43% of the Olympians compete more than once? Further, fully 7.5% of Olympic table tennis players have competed in 4 or more Olympics, the highest total for any sport, and that approaches twice as much as equestrian (4.3%) and fencing (4.0%), the two next highest sports for that stat. Looking at Olympians competed in 6 or more Games, only equestrian and table tennis have any significant proportion of their Olympians achieving that, with equestrian leading table tennis – 1.1% to 0.8% – of Olympic table tennis players competing in at least 6 Olympics.

Here is the similar list for the Winter Olympians, looking only at 2+ and 4+ Olympians:

Sport 1Games 2+Games 4+Games
Alpine Skiing 66.0% 34.0% 2.7%
Biathlon 57.6% 42.4% 5.2%
Bobsledding 73.7% 26.3% 2.7%
Cross-Country Skiing 64.7% 35.3% 4.0%
Curling 76.9% 23.1% 0.0%
Figure Skating 71.1% 28.9% 0.9%
Freestyle Skiing 64.0% 36.0% 4.3%
Ice Hockey 70.9% 29.1% 1.6%
Luge 57.2% 42.8% 6.1%
Nordic Combined 67.4% 32.6% 1.9%
Short-Track Speedskating 60.9% 39.1% 2.1%
Skeleton 74.8% 25.2% 0.0%
Ski Jumping 65.8% 34.2% 2.6%
Snowboarding 64.4% 35.6% 0.7%
Speed Skating 59.0% 41.0% 3.8%

Not too surprising is that luge sliders compete in more than one Winter Olympics more frequently than other Winter sport Olympians. But it is surprising that biathletes do so almost as frequently as lugers, and biathlon is a very physically rigorous sport. We really can’t explain that.

So if you want to compete in more than one Olympics, pick your sport carefully, and realize you have a much better chance of doing this than your parents or grandparents did.

3 thoughts on “Competing in Multiple Olympics”

  1. Hi Bill:
    Truly great stats!! Tremendous job in getting it done..
    Have you read the Ollan Cassell memoir, “Inside The Five Ring Circus” ? If not, I’d be happy to send a review copy. I actually did a huge amount of the actual writing for the book…Just send me your mailing address.
    Cheers again from
    One-Time Olympian Elliott Denman
    (USA 50K ’56.)
    732-222-9213. elliottden@aol.com

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