Tokyo Olympics 2020: From Michael Phelps to Usain Bolt-Who are the Greatest Olympians of All Time?

Published 07/15/2021, 12:11 PM EDT

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 is just around the corner after a five-year absence. Athletes from all over the world have trained hard to compete in the biggest sporting event in the world.


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By winning medals for their countries and achieving their dreams, the Olympics offer all the athletes of different sports to showcase their talents out.

Some of these athletes have captured people’s minds and hearts to become some of the most incredible athletes of all time. The list contains no particular order while the focus is purely based on the influence they left amongst the fans and their performances in the Olympic Games.


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Toyo Olympics fever starts with Phelps’s legacy in the background

Michael Phelps: Swimming

No other athlete is as successful as Michael Phelps, plain and simple. Having won 28 medals altogether, Phelps is by far the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Moreover, he won 23 gold medals in the Olympics and won eight gold medals in a single Olympic Games in Beijing 2008. Apart from Beijing, he won eight medals in Athens 2004, six medals in London 2012, and finished his career with eight medals in Rio 2016.

The astonishing fact is Phelps has won more medals than 161 countries have managed in their entire appearance in the Olympics. The Aqua gladiator ruled the pool for nearly 16 years.

BEIJING – AUGUST 11: Michael Phelps of the United States celebrates finishing the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final in first place to win the gold medal held at the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Larisa Latynina: Gymnastics

Coming to the most decorated gymnast of all time, Larisa Latynina enthralled the audience with the flexibility and finesse in which she performed. Likewise, the gymnast won 18 medals in the Olympics in her entire career.

The influence she had during the Soviet Union Era helped many gymnasts to come through the ranks. Having debuted at the age of 19, she excited the audience with her mesmerizing performances throughout the years.

Florence Griffith-Joyner: Athletics

When you mix athletics and fashion together, you have Florence Griffith-Joyner. Blessed with a bubbling personality and immense charisma, she is also the fastest woman alive. Her 100 and 200-meter records remain unbroken, after all these years.

She won three gold medals at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. However, having a lot of allegations with performance enhancement drugs tarnished her image by the end of her career. Despite that, ‘Flo-Jo’ remains in our hearts forever.


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The Bolt from the Blue

Usain Bolt: Athletics

While Florence is a legend in women’s athletics, Usain Bolt’s dominance in the Olympic Games was incredible. The ‘9.69’ race in Beijing easily solidifies his position as the greatest sprinter of all time.

He went on to better that world record by achieving a time of 9.58 in the Berlin World Championships in 2009. Scientists speak highly about the record of not being broken forever.

The fastest man alive won 9 gold medals in three separate Olympic Games. ‘The Lightning Bolt’ pose remains one of the most iconic images.

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 09: Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates after winning gold in the Men’s 200m Final on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Carl Lewis: Athletics

“You try to give a man a gold watch, and he steals your gold medal instead. You ask him to pass the torch, and he sets your Olympics on fire,” said Reilly.

Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly spoke in awe about the man who dominated the field similarly to Usain Bolt during his peak of perfection.

Notably, Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps, and Al Oerter are the three athletes to win gold medals for an individual event (long jump) in four consecutive Olympics.

In 1999, the IOC voted him as ‘Sportsman of the Century’. A remarkable career and personality are bundled into one.

Nadia Comaneci: Gymnastics

‘Perfect 10’ echoed through the ears of people who were in attendance for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Nadia Comaneci revolutionized gymnastics as a sport at the tender age of 14.

Not only did she become the first gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 in the Olympics, but she also received six more additional perfect 10s in that same event. The unpredictability and aesthetics in her movements on the uneven bars remain legendary to date.

The myth of Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens: Athletics

When Milo released their small sports encyclopedia, the first name you came across in the book was Jesse Owens. By snubbing Adolf Hitler, he attained legendary status.

Not only was he good in track and field events, but his voice also paved the way for a lot of African-American athletes to get into athletics.

Similarly, he set three world records and tied another world record during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s known as the ‘greatest 45 minutes ever in sport’ as he did all those in less than an hour. Owens was a generational talent.

Teofilo Stevenson: Boxing

The technique and toughness of Muhammed Ali made him the greatest boxer of all time. However, one boxer that goes under the radar is Teofilo Stevenson. The Cuban boxer was one of the three men to win gold medals for three different Olympics.

As Cuba boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for political reasons, Teofilo would have had five gold medals from the sport. But the passion for his country made him a superstar in Cuba.

Significantly, he rejected the opportunity to go pro and have a fight with Muhammed Ali. The reason he gave remains epic beyond proportions.

“I would rather have the love of eight million Cubans than all the money in the world,” said Stevenson.

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Katie Ledecky: Swimming

The latest inclusion to this list is the future Hall of Famer Katie Ledecky. She made history in the 2012 London Olympics as she won the gold medal for 800-meter freestyle being just 15 years old.

By holding the 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyle world records, Ledecky has attained legendary status. Rio 2016 solidified her position on the list by winning another four gold medals.

By the time she finishes the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Ledecky’s rise to the top cements her legacy amongst the greatest swimmers in the sport’s history.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 13: (BROADCAST – OUT) Swimmer, Katie Ledecky of the United States poses for a photo with her five medals on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Simone Biles: Gymnastics

Like Ledecky, sports fans already consider Simone Biles to be the greatest gymnast of all time. Biles has won 30 medals in both the Olympics and World Championships. Perfection is the keyword to be used when talking about Simone Biles.

Her dominant performances wherever she goes are legendary. Be it her landings or balance or agility, Biles can do it all. The panache she possesses is quite astonishing. Biles just continues to grow year after year.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 17: Simone Biles of the United States performs on the beam during the Gymnastics Rio Gala on Day 12 of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The Olympics have given the sporting fraternity a lot of memorable moments and dominant athletes. However, these names in the list have etched their names into the glory books as some of the most incredible athletes ever to grace the Olympic Games.


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Jacob Gijy

221 articles

Jacob Gijy is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. Gijy finished his Masters in Counselling Psychology and worked in a hospital for 2 years before his passion for sports compelled him to find his way to sports journalism. A fan of the great Tim Duncan, he is always ready to pick up a debate with anyone who does not offer the centre the respect he deserves.