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30 Mar 2015
IOC News

A summer gold rush

At Rome 1960, sprinter Wilma Rudolph became the first female to win three gold medals in a single edition of the Olympic Games. Here, we pay homage to her and some of the other multiple gold medal winners at the Olympic Games who have booked their places in the Olympic pantheon.

Only a small number of humans are lucky enough to compete in the Olympic Games, let alone win a gold medal. Then there is that rare breed of athletes who manage to win several golds in one go.

The subject of this video, American Wilma Rudolph, carved a place for herself in Olympic lore, topping the podium in the women’s 100m, 200m and 4x100m. In doing so she set a new Olympic milestone for women, becoming the first female athlete to win three golds at the same edition of the Summer Games.

Rudolph is in fact one of 59 athletes to have won three gold medals in a single Games, a list that includes Usain Bolt’s trebles in 2008 and 2012. A further 24 have topped the podium four times at one Games. However, when it comes to multiple golds, US swimmer Michael Phelps stands in a league of his own. At his first attempt in Athens in 2004 he won six golds alongside two bronzes, before going on to achieve a clean sweep of the eight events he entered four years later, which remains the single greatest haul in one edition Games in Olympic history.

In Beijing, Phelps kicked off with a new world record in the 400m individual medley, and then won gold in the 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m medley, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley.

In doing so, he outstripped fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and East Germany’s Kristin Otto who won six golds in the pool in Seoul in 1988. The only non-swimmer to equal that tally is Belarus gymnast Vitaly Scherbo. Inconsistent ahead of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Scherbo defied his form and won the team event, the all-around, pommel horse (tie), rings, vault, and parallel bars.

Six athletes to date have won five gold medals in a single Games, the first of them in 1904, when US gymnast Anton Heida won in the vault, horizontal bar, pommel horse, team competition and all around. His haul was only matched 16 years later in Antwerp by fencer Nedo Nadi and rifle marksman Willis A. Lee.

In 1924, Finnish middle and long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed “the Flying Finn”, became the first athlete to win five track golds at one Games. More recently, US Swimmer Matt Biondi became the last athlete to join the “five golds” club, in 1988. He also collected four world records, a bronze and silver for his efforts. 

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