Top 10: The greatest Olympians of all-time

15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day Seven

If there is one thing harder than qualifying for the Olympics, it must be determining who is the greatest Olympian of all-time.

A long list of candidates throughout history have a decent shout of laying claim to the prestigious title, but until now there has been no way of justifying who is truly the most deserving individual.

A comprehensive algorithm developed by Bwin could finally end the debate once and for all using six criteria designed to quash the influence of personal opinion.

To stamp out any one-time wonders, all contestants must have competed in more than one Olympics and amassed at least five medals during their career.

Any eligible Olympians are then measured up based on total medals won, total gold medals won, total individual gold medals won, win percentage, number of Olympics participated in and a coefficient score deriving from the following formula.

Five points are awarded for a gold medal, three for a silver and one for a bronze to produce a tally which is then divided by the number of different events the athlete had attempted to win gold in.

Every criteria is given a different weighting with win percentage being the most important before the candidates are ordered and allocated points for each metric.

The end product is a ranking that is likely the closest thing possible to a definitive answer when it comes to identifying the greatest Olympian ever.

10. Gert Fredriksson

No one has dominated the men’s canoeing event like the great Swede Gert Fredriksson. The six-time gold medallist is the most successful Olympian his country has ever produced, but his exploits across four appearances at the Olympics are not enough to see him climb higher up this list.

9. Larisa Latynina

The Russian gymnast took home 18 of the 19 medals she competed for during her career – her one blemish being a tie for fourth on the balance beam at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. Latynina's medal tally is unquestionably impressive, although it must be said only six of them were gold.

8. Usain Bolt

One might have expected the fastest human being in history to finish higher up this list considering his 86% winning percentage. However, his case to be deemed the greatest Olympian of all-time is weakened by his relatively modest haul of four individual golds.


If it is any consolation, surely a fancy algorithm would not be necessary to validate the Jamaican’s status as the most entertaining individual ever to grace the track.

7. Paavo Nurmi

For a man who set no less than 22 official world records during the 1920s, seventh place has to be considered a rather mediocre ranking for the Finnish long-distance runner. Nurmi was the first man to win five gold medals at the same Olympics and famously ran with a stopwatch in hand to track his performance.

6. Aladar Gerevich

Gerevich’s astonishing career perhaps could have been even more successful if it was not interrupted by World War II. The Hungarian was a member of his country’s sterling fencing team which won gold at every Olympics between 1932 and 1960, and likely would’ve set an almost unbreakable record of eight successive golds if the Games were held in 1940 and 1944.

5. Sir Steve Redgrave

The only Briton to earn a place among the top ten Olympians ever, Redgrave’s effort of five appearances at the Olympics is unmatched by any other endurance athlete. He won five consecutive gold medals in the men’s rowing even between 1984 and 2000.

4. Birgit Fischer

While many athletes on this list specialised in just one event, Fischer amassed eight golds among her 12 medals across six different disciplines. She is both the youngest and oldest canoeing champion in history having finished first on the podium at 18-years-old and 42-years-old.

3. Carl Lewis

Despite being embroiled in controversy over failed drugs tests during US team trials for the 1988 Olympics, Lewis’ stunning career demands an enormous amount of respect. He won four gold medals and was undefeated for over a decade in his favoured event, long jump, while he also managed to set world records over distances between 100m and 4x100m with the American relay team.

Carl Lewis of the USA leads in front of

2. Michael Phelps

No matter how one looks at it, Michael Phelps is far and away the most decorated Olympian of all-time. With 22 medals to his name and 18 of them glittering gold, the American is undoubtedly one of the most dominant swimmers to ever grace the pool.

1. Ray Ewry

Topping the pile is American Ray Ewry, who never tasted defeat across four Olympics in the now defunct standing high jump, standing long jump and standing triple jump. His finest moment came at the 1904 Games in St. Louis where he clinched three golds on the same day, a feat he also achieved four years earlier in Paris.

Who do you think is the greatest ever Olympian? Leave a comment below!

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