Allyson Felix has won more medals in Olympic track & field athletics than any woman, with 9, sharing that number with Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey. Together they trail only Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi, who won 12 Olympic medals, and Carl Lewis, with 10. You could also include American standing jumper Ray Ewry, if you count the 1906 Intercalated Olympics, in which he won 2 gold medals, to help him get to 10 gold medals.
Felix will likely run 2 events in Tokyo. She made the team in the 400 metres and will almost certainly run the 4×400 metres as well. That gives her a chance for 2 medals in Tokyo. The USA women have won the 4×400 at the last 6 Olympics, going back to 1996, and will be favored again. In the open 400 Felix has a chance at a medal, but a gold medal is unlikely at her age and given her times this year. If Felix wins 2 medals, this would give her 11 medals, and move her ahead of Carl Lewis and Ray Ewry, however you count Ewry’s medals.
Felix also has 6 gold medals going into Tokyo, which among track & field Olympians currently trails only Nurmi and Lewis, with 9, and Ray Ewry and Usain Bolt with 8 (remember Bolt lost a gold medal in the 2008 4×100 relay after a positive doping test by Nesta Carter, who ran on the relay). (Again, you could give Ewry 10 gold medals if you count 1906.) Winning a 4×400 relay gold would move her total up to 7, although at 6, she is alone in 5th place on this list. Two gold medals (400 and 4×4) would bring her to 8, but that is an extreme long shot.
Among women, Felix is already in a class by herself. Her 6 gold medals is the most ever by a woman in Olympic track & field. Five women trail Felix with 4 Olympic gold medals – Evelyn Ashford (USA), Sanya Richards-Ross (USA), Fanny Blankers-Koen (NED), Betty Cuthbert (AUS), and Bärbel Eckert-Wöckel (GDR) – but with more gold in Tokyo Felix can distance them further.
Allyson Felix will also be competing in her 5th Olympics in Tokyo, something that has been done among Americans in track & field only by Willye White (1956-72), Gail Devers (1988-2004), and Amy Acuff (1996-2012). An American man has yet to compete in 5 Olympics in track & field, although Abdi Abdirahman will become the first in Tokyo, after having competed in 2000-12.
Simone Biles comes into Tokyo universally acclaimed as the GOAT – the greatest female gymnast of all-time. At Rio in 2016 she won 5 medals, with 4 gold medals in the all-around, team event, horse vault, and floor exercise, adding a bronze medal on the balance beam.
At Tokyo she will again compete in the individual all-around and team event and will likely qualify for several apparatus finals. She is the overwhelming favorite in the individual all-around, not having lost an all-around competition since before Rio, although she did struggle on the second day of the recent US Olympic Trials. The USA women have won team gold in 2012 and 2016 and will likely be slight favorites again.
It’s difficult to predict how many medals and golds Biles can win in Tokyo, as the apparatus finals are a bit more of a crapshoot, but she is likely to win medals on several apparatuses, and some of them could be gold. Let’s look at what happens if she repeats her performance from Rio with 4 gold medals and 5 medals in all, which would give her 10 Olympic medals and 8 gold medals. We’ll compare mostly to women in gymnastics as men have an advantage, since they have 2 more apparatuses on which they can win medals.
10 medals would rank her 3rd all-time, trailing Larissa Latynina (USSR) (18) and Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia) (11), and would tie her with Soviet Polina Astakhova and Hungarian Ágnes Keleti (who just turned 100-years-old on January 9 of this year)
8 gold medals would rank Biles 2nd all-time only behind Latynina, who won 9 golds. Were Biles to end up with 7 gold medals she would tie Čáslavská, and even winning a single gold would give her 5 gold medals, tieing her for 3rd on the women’s gymnastics lists with Astakhova, Keleti, Nadia Comăneci (Romania), and Nelli Kim (USSR).
Looking only at American gymnasts, Biles already has the most gold medals with 4, followed by Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman with 3. Shannon Miller has the most medals among American female gymnasts, with 7, followed by Raisman with 6. Biles is tied with 5 with Nastia Liukin and Mary Lou Retton, but in Tokyo Biles is almost certain to surpass Miller and Raisman and move to #1 among American Olympic gymnasts. None of the American men approach these numbers, with Mitch Gaylord having won the most medals at modern Olympics, with 4 in 1984.
Among American women at the Olympics in all sports, three swimmers stand out, having won 12 medals – Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres, and Natalie Coughlin. Allyson Felix is next with 9 medals in track & field (and now Allison Schmitt, with 9 medals in swimming) and she will compete in Tokyo and likely increase that total. Biles could move up to 10, and even 11, if she medals in every event, but will still trail Thompson, Torres, and Coughlin, and probably Felix.
However, for gold medals, Biles could move to the top of the American women. Thompson leads the list with 8 gold medals, followed by Felix and swimmer Amy Van Dyken with 6 golds. If Biles wins another 4 golds in Tokyo, she will match Thompson, although Felix could also move up with relay golds in Tokyo.
In terms of all sports Biles could possibly match Latynina’s 9 gold medals, if she were to win 5 golds in Tokyo. Four Tokyo golds would give her 8 and equal Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen, while three would equal Čáslavská’s 7.
Individually, Biles won 3 golds and 4 medals in Rio, and will increase those numbers in Tokyo. If she wins 4 individual golds, she will tie Věra Čáslavská for the most among women in any Olympic sport, with 7. Six individual Olympic golds would tie Biles for second with Latynina and Soviet speedskater Lidiya Skoblikova. Latynina has 14 individual Olympic medals and is out of sight. Next on the list for Biles to shoot at among women is Čáslavská with 7, and with 6 – Nadia Comăneci, Merlene Ottey (JAM-ATH), Krisztina Egerszegi (HUN-SWI), and Kirsty Coventry (ZIM-SWI).
Finally, there is one more arcane Olympic record Biles may garner in Tokyo. She won 3 individual Olympic golds in Rio, and if she repeats that in Tokyo, she will join Věra Čáslavská and Michael Phelps as the only Olympians to win 3 or more individual Olympic golds at 2 Olympic Games.
Caeleb Remel Dressell will likely swim 7 events at Tokyo – the 50 and 100 metre freestyles, the 100 butterfly, all three men’s relays, and the mixed medley relay. At the 2017 and 2019 World Championships Dressell swam 8 events – all those above and the 50 metre butterfly, which is not an Olympic event. He won 7 gold medals in 2017 and 6 golds and 2 silvers in 2019. He is expected to dominate the short sprints in Tokyo.
If Dressell swims in 7 events and wins 7 medals or 5, 6, or 7 golds, where would that place him historically for performances at a single Olympics?
One mark appears out of reach which is winning 8 medals at a single Games, which has been done 3 times – by Aleksandr Dityatin in 1980 gymnastics and Michael Phelps in swimming in both 2004 and 2008.
7 Olympic medals at a single Olympics has been performed 8 times, most notably by Mark Spitz in 1972 when he won 7 swimming gold medals, all in world record times. Matt Biondi also won 7 swim medals in 1988, with 5 golds. The other 6 athletes to perform this were shooters Willis Lee (USA-1920) and Lloyd Spooner (USA-1920), and gymnasts Mariya Gorokhovskaya (URS-1952) (the only woman), Boris Shakhlin (URS-1960), Mikhail Voronin (URS-1968), and Nikolay Andrianov (URS-1976).
6 Olympic medals at a single Olympics is a tremendous feat, but its not that rare. It has been done 26 times by 17 men and 9 women. The sports were Gymnastics (18), Swimming (4), and then 1 each for Archery, Athletics, Track Cycling, and Shooting.
7 gold medals would be a stretch for Dressell but if he pulls that off, he reaches the Olympic pantheon occupied only by Michael Phelps, 8 golds in 2008, and Mark Spitz with 7 golds in 1972.
6 gold medals also takes Dressel to the top levels of Olympians, as this has only been done 3 times at a single Olympics – by Kristin Otto (GDR-SWI) in 1988, Vitaly Scherbo (URS-GYM) in 1992, and Phelps in 2004.
5 gold medals has been done 7 times at a single Olympics, as follows: Anton Heida (USA-GYM-1904), Nedo Nadi (ITA-FEN-1920), Willis Lee (USA-SHO-1920), Paavo Nurmi (FIN-ATH-1924), Eric Heiden (USA-SSK-1980) (uniquely winning all 5 individual events entered), Matt Biondi (USA-SWI-1988), and Michael Phelps (USA-SWI-2004).
Katie Ledecky has won 5 gold medals and 6 Olympic medals in all at previous Olympics. She has qualified for @TeamUSA in 4 individual events – 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 freestyle, and will likely swim in relays, although the exact number of relays is to be determined. In terms of the all-time Olympic medal lists, what can she accomplish in Tokyo?
Let’s assume she swims 6 events in Tokyo – her four individual events and the 4×200 freestyle relay (definite) and 4×100 freestyle relay (possibly swim a heat). She could swim 2 other relays in heats, the women’s medley relay and the mixed medley relay, but that’s highly unlikely.
In the 6 events named, Ledecky will be the heavy favorite in the 800 and 1,500 and will likely win gold. She has been the world’s best in the 400 freestyle since before the 2016 Olympics but Australia’s Ariarne Titmus put up some times at the Australian Olympic Trials that actually make her look like the favorite in that event, although Swimming World magazine picked Ledecky as the likely gold medalist in the 400. Titmus is also favored in the 200 freestyle, which is on the short side for Ledecky. However, it is likely Ledecky will win medals in both the 200 and 400 freestyles, if not gold. As to the relays, barring some disaster like a false start or other disqualification, the USA will certainly win medals in both the freestyle relays. They will likely be a narrow favorite in the 4×200 but Australia will be the betting choice in the 4×100.
So let’s give Ledecky 3 gold medals and 6 medals in all at Tokyo and see where that puts her on the all-time Olympic medal lists:
8 gold medals – among women she would move to =#2 all-time behind Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, and tied at second with Marit Bjørgen (NOR-CCS), Birgit Fischer-Schmidt (GDR/GER-CAN), and American swimmer Jenny Thompson.
11 Olympic medals – among women she would move to =7th all-time behind Latynina (18), Bjørgen (15), Fischer-Schmidt and Thompson (12), and American swimmers Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin, with 12 each. Among men and women, she would move up to =18th all-time in terms of Olympic medals.
11 Olympic swim medals – Ledecky would trail only Michael Phelps (28), Thompson, Torres, and Coughlin with 12 each, Ryan Lochte, also with 12, and she would be tied with Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi who won 11 Olympic medals in swimming. Notably, everybody in this group is from @TeamUSA.
8 Olympic swim gold medals – Ledecky would move to 3rd on this list, behind Michael Phelps with 23, and Mark Spitz with 9. Eight gold medals would tie her with Jenny Thompson and Matt Biondi.
9 Olympic gold medals – If she were to win 4 gold medals in Tokyo, she would have 9 total, and move to 2nd all-time among swimmers, behind that guy from Baltimore, and would also be 2nd all-time among athletes in all-sports, trailing only Phelps, and tying Latynina, Spitz, Paavo Nurmi (FIN-ATH), and Carl Lewis (USA-ATH). (Ray Ewry, US standing jumper won 10 gold medals if you include the 1906 Intercalated Olympics.)
Let’s also look at individual accomplishments. Many of the swimmers have won a lot of medals in relay races. Ledecky has also won some relays, but to date, she has 4 individual gold medals (and 4 individual medals in all). If she wins 2, 3, or 4 individual gold medals in Tokyo, where does that rank her? As stated, I think she’ll win the 800 and 1,500, but the 200 and 400 are longer shots. She could win them, but far from a lock.
2 individual golds in Tokyo = 6 individual golds total – Phelps leads this list with 13 individual golds, followed by standing jumper Ray Ewry (USA) with 8 (10 if you count the 1906 Intercalated Olympics). There are 2 athletes with 7 individual gold medals – Carl Lewis in athletics and Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia) in gymnastics. Thus, 6 individual gold medals would move Ledecky to =#5 on the all-time Olympic list. (We’re not counting Leonidas of Rhodes who won 12 individual titles at the Ancient Olympic Games.)
3 individual golds in Tokyo = 7 individual golds total – now Ledecky moves up and matches Carl Lewis and Věra Čáslavská and would be =3rd on the all-time list for individual gold medals. And by matching Čáslavská, Ledecky and Čáslavská would be =#1 among women.
4 individual golds in Tokyo = 8 individual golds total – don’t hold your breath for this one, but if she could do it, Ledecky would match Ray Ewry and trail only Michael Phelps among Olympians with individual gold medals.
What about at Tokyo by itself? If Ledecky wins 6 medals, or 4 or 5 golds, where does that stand for a single Olympics?
6 medals in Tokyo would be 2nd most all-time among women at one Olympics, behind only Mariya Gorokhovskaya of the Soviet Union in 1952 gymnastics, who won 7. Ledecky would match 9 other women who have won 6 medals at a single Olympics. If she wins 5 medals in Tokyo she would match 25 other women for 11th place for Olympic medals at a singles Olympics by a woman.
4 or 5 gold medals in Tokyo – 5 gold medals, a long shot, would put Ledecky behind only East German swimmer Kristin Otto, who won 6 gold medals in 1988. No other woman has won 5 gold medals at an Olympics. 4 gold medals would tie Ledecky with 11 other women, including Simone Biles who won 4 in gymnastics at Rio de Janeiro.
So there you have it. Whatever Ledecky accomplishes in the pool in Rio, she is likely to make history.
In the US sporting media much is being made of the USA women’s basketball team, which could win its 7th consecutive gold medal in Tokyo (1996-2020), equalling the record of the USA men from 1936-68, when they won 7 straight Olympic basketball titles. However, there are a number of other national winning streaks on the line in Tokyo in team events, as opposed to just team sports, which I discussed yesterday in relation to Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and women’s basketball, and several of them involve USA winning streaks.
The longest streak is by the USA men in swimming medley relay. They have now won the event at 9 straight Olympics, going back to 1984. This is an absolute Olympic record for the longest streak by any nation in a team event in any sport, and they will be going for 10 in Tokyo.
Korea (South) also has a long ongoing streak, with their women having won the team archery gold medal at each Olympics from 1988-2016 – 8 straight. They share this mark with three others although none of the streaks are ongoing. The USA won the men’s 4×100 metre relay in athletics at each Olympics from 1920 to 1956. United States’ rowers also won the men’s coxed eights at the same Olympics – 1920-56, for 8 straight. And finally, the Soviet Union women gymnasts won the team title consecutively from 1952-80. A case could be made for adding the USA again to this list with their men’s swimming short freestyle relay team, which won every year from 1904 to 1996 – 8 consecutive golds. The event was not raced from 1908-60, was not contested in 1976 or 1980, and in 1904 it was swim at 4×50 yards, rather than the traditional 4×100 metres.
There are several other long national streaks on the line in Tokyo. The USA women have won 6 consecutive gold medals in the 4×400 relay in athletics. There are 5 team events in which nations have a 5-gold winning streak coming into Tokyo, all won from 2000-16: Russia in artistic swimming in both duet and team, Russia again in rhythmic gymnastics group competition, China in women’s synchronized platform diving, and Great Britain in men’s fours rowing. One could argue that Russia cannot extend their streak technically, as they will not be competing in Tokyo as the Russian Federation, but rather the Russian Olympic Committee.
Coco Gauff, the young American tennis phenom who recently went to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon, was named to the 2020 USA Olympic team, but she then tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw. Is Coco Gauff an Olympian?
At Sochi in 2014 Heidi Kloser was selected for @TeamUSA in freestyle skiing, but in training the day before her competition she fractured an ankle and could not compete. Videos of the injury showed her poignantly crying out, “Am I still an Olympian?” Is Heidi Kloser an Olympian?
Basically, the question is “What defines who is or who is not an Olympian?” Shortly over a year ago the IOC started promoting the policy of Olympians being able to add “OLY” after their names, similar to how doctors add MD, research doctorates use PhD, or lawyers use JD. But who exactly gets to use the “OLY” designation? You might think its an easy answer but it’s not.
The IOC has no strict definition for an Olympian. The term is not mentioned in the Olympic Charter, as only the word athlete is used.
There is an “alumni” group of Olympians termed the World Olympians Association (WOA). They have had definitions for their members in the past but those definitions have changed with time. When contacting Dick Fosbury, past President of the WOA, and Willie Banks, former President of the US Olympians Association, both agreed that there is no strict definition that is agreed upon. Banks said that “This has been a sticky problem for as long as there has been the Olympic Games. … However, traditionally, an Olympian is someone who has ‘participated’ in the Olympic Games.”
National Olympic Committees (NOCs) often have different policies about who is an Olympian. I can assure you that the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) considers the members of the team they named for the 1980 Olympic Games as Olympians, even though they never competed, never were entered, and never came close to Moscow. But per the USOPC they are Olympians, and many NOCs consider their reserves and alternates as Olympians.
At Olympedia we originally used the policy to only include athletes who actually competed in the Olympics – who stepped onto the field of play. Then around 2003, IOC President Jacques Rogge changed IOC protocol somewhat. Previously, athletes in team sports (football, basketball, etc) who were on medal-winning teams did not receive medals if they did not compete in any matches or games. Rogge, a former rugby player and sailing Olympian, thought this was wrong as all team members contribute to the success of the team in team sports. So, he changed the policy and non-starters in team sports started receiving medals.
With Olympedia we were now left with the problem of not including athletes who did not compete, but who still received medals, so we had to change our policy and we began adding DNS = did not start athletes. Our policy is fairly strict, however, as the athletes must be listed in the Official Results as DNS, or in the final Official Entry lists, both of which we have now – but not always in the early days of the Olympics. Because we did not want to discriminate against athletes by sports, we changed this policy for all DNS athletes in all sports, not simply team sports.
A problem along those lines has recently arisen with our data. In 1976, many African nations boycotted the Montreal Olympics because New Zealand was competing and New Zealand’s rugby team, ironically named in this case the All-Blacks, had recently toured South Africa, at that time a nation known for its policy of apartheid. However, the African nations’ athletes were entered – they are in the final Official Entry lists. Should we list them as Olympians and include them in Olympedia? We’ve been debating this among ourselves. If we include them, we are including athletes whose nations (in most cases) officially did not compete at the Games, but they could be counted as Olympians despite that. For now we have not added them.
One other thing we see all the time is what we term “Triple O’s”, standing for “Obituary Only Olympians”. We see obituaries of former athletes that list them as Olympians, yet they are not in our database and we can find nothing about them even being entered. Probably they were alternates to some NOCs Olympic team at some team. Are they Olympians? Should alternates or reserves to an Olympic team be considered Olympians?
So it’s a tricky problem. We get asked a lot “Who is an Olympian?” And we don’t have a good answer to the question.
Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have made the US women’s basketball team for the 5th consecutive Olympics. They have won gold medals at their previous 4 Olympics, and the US women are favored to repeat as Olympic Champions for the 7th straight Games. Where does that put the US women and Ms. Bird and Ms. Taurasi historically?
If the USA women win the title in Tokyo, Bird and Taurasi will win their 5th consecutive gold medal in basketball. Five gold medals would move them to =13th on the list of gold medal winners among Olympic women. The list is led by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won 9 gold medals in 1956-64. Three women – Marit Bjørgen of Norway in cross-country skiing, Birgit Fischer-Schmidt of Germany/East Germany in sprint canoeing, and Jenny Thompson, an American swimmer – have won 8 gold medals, followed by Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská with 7.
But if successful, Bird and Taurasi will have won 5 gold medals in 5 consecutive Olympics, a feat surpassed among women only by Valentina Vezzali of Italy in fencing, who won 6 gold medals in 5 consecutive Olympics. Bird and Taurasi would become the only Olympians, women or men, to win 5 gold medals in team sports. They currently share the record of 4 with three other American women basketballers, Lisa Leslie, Theresa Edwards, and Tamika Catchings; and with three Canadian ice hockey players – Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, and Caroline Ouellette.
Among men and women, Bird and Taurasi would also join Aladár Gerevich, a Hungarian fencer who won 7 golds in 6 consecutive Olympics; Pál Kovács, another Hungarian fencer with 6 golds at 5 consecutive Olympics; and Steven Redgrave, a British rower who won 5 golds at 5 straight Olympics.
As to the USA women’s team, if they take their 7th consecutive gold medal, they would also reach Everest-like air in basketball and Olympic team sports. A 7th gold would match the Olympic best for team sports set by the USA men in basketball from 1936 to 1968. Besides the USA hoopsters, India also won 6 consecutive Olympic titles in a team sport – hockey (field) – from 1928-56; and in ice hockey both Canada and the Soviet Union had 4 gold medal streaks – Canada in 1920-32 by their men, and 2002-14 by their women, and the Soviet men in 1964-76.
The other best streaks in the various team sports on the Olympic Program are as follows: Beach Volleyball (3) – 2004-12 by USA (Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh) (women); Curling – 2006-14 by Canada (men); Handball (3) – 1996-2004 by Denmark (women); Polo (3) – 1900-20 by Great Britain (men); Softball (3) – 1996-2004 by the United States (women); Volleyball (3) – 1992-2000 by Cuba (women); and Water Polo (3) – 1908-20 by Great Britain (men) and 2000-08 by Hungary (men).
So Katie Ledecky will swim at her third US Olympic Trials tomorrow, starting her Olympic campaign in the 400 metre freestyle. What can she accomplish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in terms of her Olympic legacy?
Ledecky will swim 4 individual events at the Trials – the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 metre freestyles – and is almost a lock to make the US team in all 4 events. Making the team in the 200 freestyle will put her on the 4×200 freestyle relay team, and she may also be placed on the team as a prelim swimmer for the 4×100 freestyle relay. That would be 6 events in an ideal scenario.
Ledecky currently has 6 Olympic medals – 5 gold and 1 silver. If she were to win 6 gold medals, which I think is an extreme long shot, she would equal the Olympic record for women set by East German swimmer Kristen Otto at the 1988 Seoul Olympics who had, shall we say, some assistance.
Just winning 6 medals would put Ledecky in elite company, giving her 12 Olympic medals. That would be equal 3rd all-time among female Olympians, trailing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina (18) and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen (15). She would then tie 3 American swimmers – Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres, and Natalie Coughlin – and East German canoeist Birgit Fischer-Schmidt.
I think its more reasonable to think Ledecky could win 4 Olympic medals, as a medal in the 200 free or the 4×100 free relay are by no means guarantees. That would give her 10 medals and bring her to equal 9th on the list for female Olympians.
However, Ledecky has a better chance to assault the Olympic record book for most gold medals among women. She has 5 gold medals, and the record for women is 9 by Latynina, with Bjørgen, Thompson, and Fischer-Schmidt next with 8 gold medals.
Ledecky could win 5 gold medals in the 4 freestyle races and the 4×200 free relay, but that is a long shot. She will be favored in the 800 and 1,500, and the USA will likely be favored in that relay, but she is not expected to win the 200 free. In the 400 free, she has been dominant but Australia’s Ariarne Titmus swam the 2nd fastest time ever yesterday at the Australian Olympic trials, and is the world leader for 2021. Titmus defeated Ledecky at the 2019 World Championships, although Ledecky was sick there, but Titmus and Ledecky will battle it out in the 400 free.
If Ledecky could win 5 gold medals, she would become the all-time leader among Olympic women with 10 gold medals. She would also become the second female Olympian, after Otto, to win more than 4 gold medals at a single Games. Even if she wins 4 gold medals she would tie Larisa Latynina for the most Olympic gold medals won by a woman.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve discussed various aspects of “Multi-Olympians” – Olympians who competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Olympians who competed in two or more sports, and Olympians who competed for two more nations. To finish this travelogue, today we’ll have a short look at Multi-Olympians who simply competed at more than one Olympics.
From 1896 to 2018 we have 135,356 “Olympians” in our database. Our definition of an “Olympian” is somebody who is known to have actually competed at the Olympics, and we’re fairly strict about that. There are a few missing Olympians from the early Games that we have not identified, but the current count includes 114,751 Summer Olympians, 20,463 Winter Olympians, and the 142 Olympians who competed at both Games.
Of these Olympians, what are the odds of competing in more than one Olympics? With the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games, this has become of some interest as the media has been interested in how many Olympians only compete at one Olympics and never get a second chance.
And the answer is – 72.2% of Olympians have competed in only one Olympic Games from 1896 to 2018. Thus, slightly more ¼ of all Olympians, or more precisely, 27.8% or 37,638 Olympians, have competed in more than one Olympics.
Of these the breakdown for how often they have competed is as follows:
For the record the athlete who competed in 10 Olympics is Ian Millar, a Canadian equestrian rider, who appeared at the Olympics from 1972-2012, missing only in 1980 because of the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moskva Olympics. The 2 athletes competing in 9 Olympics were Austrian sailor Hubert Raudauschl, who was at every Olympics from 1964 to 1996; and the Latvian/Soviet shooter Afanasijs Kuzmins, who competed in 1976, 1980, and 1988 for the Soviet Union, and from 1992-2012 for Latvia.
The record among women is held jointly by three Olympians who competed at 8 Olympics – Josefa Idem-Guerrini, a canoeist who competed for both Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany (West) from 1984-2012; Lesley Thompson-Willie of Canada, a rower who competed from 1984-2016, missing 2004; and Nino Salukvadze, a sport shooter who competed for the Soviet Union, the Unified Team, and Georgia from 1988-2016.
At the Winter Olympics, Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai has uniquely competed at 8 Winter Olympics from 1992 through 2018, and he’s still going. Among women, Claudia Pechstein, a German speed skater, competed at 7 Winter Olympics, the record for women at the Winter Games, from 1992 to 2018, missing the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics in a doping controversy.
For those who competed at both versions of the Olympics, 5 women competed at 6 different Olympiads: Kateřina Neumannová – CZE/TCH; CCS/CYC; 1992-2006; Evgeniya Radanova – BUL; CYC/STK; 1994-2010; Clara Hughes – CAN; CYC/SSK; 1996-2012; Hayley Wickenheiser – CAN; ICH/SOF; 1998-2014; and Jaqueline Mourão – BRA; BIA/CCS/CYC; 2004-2018. Of course, the ubiquitous Seiko Hashimoto, Japanese cyclist speed skater, competed at 7 Olympics from 1984-1996, although she competed in both sets of Games in 1988 and 1992.
Over the last few days I have posted on athletes competing in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, and those who competed in 2 different sports. What about athletes who have competed for 2 different nations at the Olympics? Surely that has happened a few times.
Well, it has, in fact we have 1,622 such Olympians in our database – that’s out of about 135,450 Olympians. It is probably more correct to say they represented 2 or more GPEs, or geo-political entities, at the Olympics, rather than nations. This is because technically Olympians represent National Olympic Committees, or NOCs, rather than nations, but also there are several exceptions to nations and NOCs, but for simplicity, we will stick to “nations”.
As examples of non-national GPEs, Russia competed at PyeongChang in 2018 as OAR = Olympic Athletes from Russia, and will compete at Tokyo as ROC = Russian Olympic Committee. There have been Refugee Olympic Teams, unfortunately labelled as ROT originally, but now to be EOR = Équipe Olympique Réfugée. Further, there have been several cases where teams were labelled as IOA = Independent Olympic Athletes or IOP = Independent Olympic Participants. Finally, some NOCs do not represent independent nations, such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa, territories of the United States; or the British Virgin Islands, a British Overseas Territory; Hong Kong, China, now a part of China; and formerly the Netherlands Antilles, which was a part of the Netherlands.
Even listing all the nations can cause some confusion, because many of these 1,622 cases have been nations that have been related politically. The Soviet Union’s republics separated into many different nations, as did the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and Germany was formerly the Federal Republic of Germany (West) and the German Democratic Republic (East). So we will make a distinction between 1) related nations, and 2) distinctly different nations (DDN).
Of the 1,622 cases in our database, only 315 of them involved DDN. There are actually 5 examples of athletes representing 4 nations at the Olympics, although none of these are fully DDN, and they all involve former Soviet or Yugoslav athletes. They are as follows:
There have been 92 athletes represent 3 nations at the Olympics, with almost all of them involving athletes from former Soviet or Yugoslav republics. Only 1 athlete can be considered to have represented 3 DDN – Yamilé Aldama, originally a Cuban triple jumper who competed in 5 Olympics from 1996-2012. She competed for Cuba in 1996 and 2000, the Sudan in 2004 and 2008, and Great Britain in 2012.
What are the most frequent combinations of multiple nations represented? There have been 354 different combinations, but looking at all nations, related and distinctly different, here is the list of the most common:
As you can see, these are all politically related nations. Now if we limit the list to DDN, this looks far different:
But looking at this another way, here are the most common nations among the DDN:
Now what about winning Olympic medals for 2 nations or 2 DDN? Has that happened? Of course, it has. There are 320 cases of Olympic athletes winning medals for 2 different nations, but limiting this to DDN, this narrows it down to only 25 examples. There have also been 10 cases in which an athlete won Olympic medals for 3 different nations, although with the exception of Irina Lashko, 8 of these were for the Soviet Union, Unified Team, and Russia, and 1 case involved Yugoslavia and its various different names. Here is that list:
Again, Anfisa Reztsova is the queen of cross-overs, having won medals in 2 different sports for 3 different nations.
Finally, how many Olympians have won gold medals for 2 different nations? This has been done 67 times, but only 3 times by athletes representing DDN:
Viktor An (Hyeon-Su Ahn)
And from the previous list, 3 Olympians actually have won gold medals for 3 different nations, but all were for the Soviet Union/Unified Team/Russia combination – Anfisa Reztsova (BIA/CCS), Aleksandr Karelin (WRE), and Andrey Lavrov (HAN).