Top 10 athletes with the most medals at the Summer Olympics

·7-min read
US swimmer Michael Phelps with the 23 gold medals he won at the Olympic Games.
Swimming icon Michael Phelps with the 23 gold medals he won at the Olympic Games. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — So far, a total of 15,683 medals have been awarded in the history of the Summer Olympics, which includes 5,116 gold medals, 5,080 silver and 5,487 bronze medals.

At the last edition in Rio de Janeiro alone, there were 971 medals to be won. Some athletes would be overjoyed at simply earning a single bronze medal, while others kept on winning even after they had struck gold as they amassed piles of shiny medals throughout their stellar sporting careers.

Here are the top 10 athletes who have won the most medals at the Summer Olympics:

Michael Phelps (USA, swimming)

28 medals: 23 golds, 3 silvers, 2 bronzes

The ultimate winning machine, Phelps has set records that may never be broken: most Olympic medals (28), most Olympic golds (23), most golds at a single Games (eight at the 2008 Beijing Games), most world records set for swimming (39), just to name a few.

He also won with minimal controversy, a big grin and an easygoing nature, making him an exemplary sportsman for all others to emulate. Even as he privately battled attention deficit hyperactivity disorder early in his life and depression after his retirement, he always had time to advise and inspire other swimmers. A truly monumental sporting icon.

Soviet Union's Larisa Latynina during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Soviet Union's Larisa Latynina during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. (PHOTO: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Larisa Latynina (USSR, gymnastics)

18 medals: 9G, 5S, 4B

In a space of three Olympic Games from 1956 to 1964, Latynina helped established Soviet Union as a dominant force in gymnastics. Bursting into the scene with four golds on her debut Games in Melbourne, her background in dancing gave her a commanding yet graceful presence during her routines.

When Latynina won the last six of her 18 career medals at the 1964 Tokyo Games, she was two months from her 30th birthday. Many top gymnasts would have been long retired at that age, which just strengthens the enduring excellence of this indomitable Russian. Her record of 18 Olympic medals stood until 2012, broken only by Phelps.

Nikolai Adrianov (USSR, gymnastics)

15 medals: 7G, 5S, 3B

The pre-eminent male gymnast in the 1970s, Adrianov starred in the 1976 Montreal Games, bagging four golds, two silvers and one bronze in a dominant gymnastics performance. While he also won golds at the 1972 and 1980 Olympics, it was only in Montreal where he won the prized all-around gold.

Adrianov retired shortly after the 1980 Moscow Games, and became a renowned coach for the junior and senior Russian teams as well as the Japan Olympic gymnastics team. Sadly, he suffered from a rare neurological disorder later in his life, and died in 2011 at the age of 58.

Boris Shakhlin (USSR, gymnastics)

13 medals: 7G, 4S, 2B

While Latynina was dominating women's gymnastics in the early 1960s, Shakhlin did the same in men's gymnastics during the decade. His peak came at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he clinched four golds, two silvers and one bronze.

Known as the Man of Iron for his “steely determination and calm consistency”, Shakhlin's powerful frame propelled him to frequent gold-winning performances on the horizontal bar and the rings events. However, at age 35, he was forced to retire from gymnastics after suffering a heart attack.

Edoardo Mangiarotti (centre) with his men's epee gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Edoardo Mangiarotti (centre) with his men's epee gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. (PHOTO: Touring Club Italiano/Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Edoardo Mangiarotti (Italy, fencing)

13 medals: 6G, 5S, 2B

Born into a famous Italian fencing family, Mangiarotti was converted by his father from a right-handed fencer to a left-handed one in order to make him tough to defend against. He overcome the initial awkwardness to become dominant in not one but two fencing disciplines - epee and foil.

Debuting at the 1936 Berlin Olympics with a team epee gold, Mangiarotti would go to feature in four more Olympics after World War II, a testament to his longevity. The 1952 Helsinki Games was his peak, as he won golds in both the team and individual epee competitions, and competed together with his older brother Dario.

Takashi Ono (Japan, gymnastics)

13 medals: 5G, 4S, 4B

It took monumental efforts to break the Soviet Union's stranglehold on gymnastics gold medals in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but Ono succeeded brilliantly, particularly at the 1960 Rome Games where he bagged three golds, a silver and two bronzes to share the spotlight with Shakhlin.

By then, Ono was already near the end of his career at age 29. However, he pressed on for one final Olympics in his home country in 1964, and helped the men's team clinch their second straight gold in Tokyo, before retiring as a Japanese sporting icon.

Paavo Nurmi (Finland, athletics)

12 medals: 9G, 3S

The "Flying Finn" dominated distance running in the early 20th century, setting 22 world records at distances between 1500 metres and 20 kilometres in his 14-year career. In 1923, Nurmi held simultaneous world records in the mile, the 5,000m and the 10,000m races, a feat which has never since been repeated.

His greatest Olympic performance came at the 1924 Paris Games, where he won a staggering five golds in gruelling events: 1,500m, 5,000m, team 3,000m, and individual and team cross country races. He smashed world records in the 1,500m and 5,000m with just an hour between the races. An astonishing athlete.

German canoeist Birgit Fischer at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
German canoeist Birgit Fischer at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. (PHOTO: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images)

Birgit Fischer (East Germany/Germany, canoeing)

12 medals: 8G, 4S

At the age of 20, Fischer became the youngest Olympic canoeing gold medallist when she won the K1 500m event at the 1980 Moscow Games. That set the tone for a long career in which she won golds in six Olympic editions - and it would most likely be seven had East Germany not boycotted the Los Angeles Games in 1984, when she was at her peak powers.

At the 2004 Athens Games, Fischer came out of retirement for one last hurrah. Aged 42, she still won gold in the fours (K4 500m) and silver in the double (K2 500m). Among the women athletes, only Latynina has won more Olympic medals, and Fischer is the only woman to win medals 20 years apart.

Sawao Kato (Japan, gymnastics)

12 medals: 8G, 3S, 1B

Much like how Ono challenged Shakhlin for men's gymnastics supremacy in the 1960s, Kato vied for top honours with Adrianov for much of the 1970s. While Adrianov eventually finished with more Olympic medals, Kato won one more gold than his Soviet rival. 

The rivalry reached a dramatic conclusion at the 1976 Montreal Games. Kato was aiming for an unprecedented third straight all-around gold, but was thwarted by Adrianov. Nevertheless, he brushed off the setback to inspire the Japanese men's team to their fifth straight team gold, edging the Soviet team by just 0.4 points.

Jenny Thompson (USA, swimming)

12 medals: 8G, 3S, 1B

While Thompson has never won an individual gold medal at the Olympics, she was an indispensable cog in the dominant US women's relay team throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. At both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, the US women's team swept the three relay events, with Thompson frequently swimming the anchor leg.

Her consistency eventually won her many individual accolades, such as the 1993 and 1998 USA Swimming Swimmer of the Year and the 1998 Female Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine.

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