Every few years, the Olympics give us the chance to take a look at the best athletes in the entire world. Hundreds of athletes from dozens of different countries participate in the Olympics. Because of everything happening and how many star athletes participating, it can be hard for any one person to dominate the headlines when new gold medals are being handed out every single day. However, there are some athletes who have managed to become absolute superstars, based solely on their performances at the Olympics. With that in mind, here are 15 athletes who became superstars at the Summer or Winter Olympics.
15. The Jamaican Bobsled Team
While most of the entries on this list made the list because of their amazing skills or record-breaking performances, that is not the case with the Jamaican Bobsled team. Back at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the bobsled team from Jamaica was dominating the headlines. Not for their skill, but simply because it was so strange to see a team from a tropical island being represented at the Winter Olympics. While they didn’t win a medal or anything, they became the darlings of the event and were beloved by everyone. These guys were such an incredible story that they eventually became the inspiration for the Hollywood film Cool Runnings.
14. Teofilo Stevenson
When you think about the best boxers of all-time, your mind will often go to the likes of Muhammad Ali or Floyd Mayweather. However, the best boxer of all-time might actually be a Cuban fighter named Teofilo Stevenson. He participated in three Olympic games from 1972 to 1980, and won the gold medal in each one of them. He didn’t lose a single fight in his Olympic career and retired with over 300 wins and only about 20 losses. However, Stevenson never went professional and stuck to fighting at the Olympics, world championships, and other events. As a result, it is hard to know how he would have fared as a pro. But as an amateur, he was legendary.
13. Alexandre Bilodeau
While he might not be as “worldwide famous” as some of the people on this list, Alexandre Bilodeau is an absolute Canadian hero. The reason for this is because he became the first ever Canadian to win a gold medal at an Olympic games held on home soil in Canada. He won the gold in the Men’s Moguls in Vancouver in 2010, and actually went on to defend the title at Sochi in 2014. Canada didn’t win a single gold medal in their previous attempt at hosting the games in Calgary 1988. Bilodeau recently retired, so we won’t see him on the snow in South Korea 2018, but he remains a Canadian superstar for his big win back in 2010.
12. Aleksandr Karelin
If you are wondering who the most intimidating man on the planet is, it might just be Aleksandr Karelin. He was an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler for Russia and might be the best of all-time. He won three gold medals in 1988, 1992 and 1996 and was the flag bearer for the Soviet Union/Russia at each of those three events. He also won 12 European championships and a whopping nine World Championships. He was one of the strongest wrestlers ever and would absolutely manhandle his opponents. He was seen as a national hero in Russia and his career record in wrestling is an almost unbelievable 887-2.
11. Simone Biles
While Simone Biles has been a World Champion gymnast since 2013, the world as a whole wasn’t really introduced to her until the Brazil Summer Game in 2016. There, the teenager dazzled the audience and viewers around with her amazing skills, en-route to four gold medals. She has won a combined 19 Olympic and World Championship medals, which makes her the most decorated American gymnast ever, and she is still only 20-years-old. Her accomplishments are already outstanding and with many years of competition left, expect her medal counts to keep rising.
10. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Being a talented track and field athlete is super hard, since you need to be great at a number of different events if you want to be the best. But for Jackie Joyner-Kersee, she made it look easy. Joyner-Kersee is one of the best long jumpers and heptathletes of all-time. She took home three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in those events at a whopping four different Olympic games. She is often seen as one of the best female athletes of all-time. She managed to do this all while having severe asthma, which makes it that much more impressive.
9. Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner is one of the most famous, popular ,and beloved track athletes of all-time. When it comes to the list of the fastest women to ever race, the list starts and ends with her. Back in 1988, she set the world records in both the 100 m and the 200 m sprints. Both of these records still stand 30 years later. She won three gold medals at the 1988 Seoul games in those two races, and also the 4 x 100 m relay. Sadly, Joyner passed away in her sleep back in 1998 at the young age of 38, a result of severe epileptic seizure.
8. Paavo Nurmi
While not as famous (or even as likable) as some of these other athletes on this list, Paavo Nurmi’s intensity, toughness, and sheer will to win made him a superstar. He won nine gold medals across the 1920 and 1924 Olympic games. His bread and butter were long distance races and he was damn good at them. He never lost a single 10,000 m or cross country race and once competed in two long races in a day, and set Olympic Records in both of them. Simply put, he pushed his body to the limits to achieve those medals. The amazing Finnish runner was a respected and beloved figure due to his Olympic heroics. He has also set an astonishing 22 world records throughout his storied career.
7. Nadia Comaneci
Nadia Comaneci is likely responsible for popularizing the sport of gymnastics and is one of the most famous individuals in her entire sport. She burst onto the gymnastics scene at the 1976 Olympic Games and shocked the world. The Romanian star won five medals (including three gold medals), and that isn’t even what she is most remembered for. She was remembered because of her perfection as a gymnast. She was the first ever person to get a perfect score at the Olympics, and then received six more perfect tens at the same event. That is simply unbelievable. Decades after her performance, she is still a famous figure in the Olympics.
6. Larisa Latynina
Perhaps the most decorated female Olympian of all-time, Larisa Latynina is a true legend in the sport of gymnastics. She participated in three different Olympic Games and took home a crazy 18 Olympic medals, which stood as a record for around half a century. She helped the Soviet Union become a force in gymnastics and right now, is likely the best gymnast of all-time. To truly understand what she accomplished is tough, as she won gold medals in several different events, in several different years. After retiring, she became a coach for the Soviet gymnastics team, and she helped them win gold a few more times.
5. Mark Spitz
While he did “just okay” at the 1968 Olympic Games, his two gold medals were a bit of a disappointment since he claimed he would win six. However, at the 1972 Games, things were different. Spitz was remarkable that year, as he won seven gold medals in swimming (becoming the first person to ever achieve such a feat), while also setting seven world records in the process. During those 1972 Games, he was seemingly the topic of every headline. Despite being only 22-years-old at the time of his record breaking performances, he decided to retire out of nowhere shortly afterwards. With all of these amazing accolades and accomplishments, he still isn’t the best swimmer of all-time. More on that in a minute.
4. Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis is one of the single best track athletes ever, and won eight gold medals across four different Olympic games. Not only was he one of the fastest people on the entire planet, he might have been the best long jumper of all-time. Lewis won the gold medal for long jump in four straight Olympic Games, and jumped over 28 feet over 70 times! He was so good that he won 65 straight events as a long jumper and was undefeated for a period of around a decade. He took home over 20 overall gold medals in his career and will always be seen as one of the best American Olympic athletes ever.
3. Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens is far and away the most remarkable and interesting story in the history of the Olympic games, and maybe sports in general. He is incredibly famous for his amazing performance during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, during the height of the Nazi regime. He won four gold medals and took home two world records, spitting in the face of Hitler’s ideology of a perfect, superior Aryan race. With Hitler himself in the crowd, Owens was perhaps in the most heated environment possible and still rose to the occasion to dominate the Olympic Games. He could have easily been number one on this list, since he had to overcome huge amounts of bigotry to show that he was the greatest.
2. Michael Phelps
What more can you say about Michael Phelps that hasn’t already been said a million times over? He is the most decorated Olympian ever with 28 medals, with 23 total gold medals. He won eight gold medals in Beijing 2008 and was the most decorated winner at each of the last four Summer Olympic Games. He was simply untouchable in the pool, no matter what the distance or race was. He has broken a number of different world records and still holds many of them as well. It is hard to see anyone matching or beating the absurd number of medals he has won. He is technically retired, but he has claimed that before and still come back to win multiple medals. So who knows if he will be back in 2020 or not. He would still be in his mid-30s and could probably still beat most other competitors.
1. Usain Bolt
While this might be a shock to some, Usain Bolt is my pick for the number one spot on this list. Simply put, there has never been a faster human being alive than the Jamaican sprinter. His unique frame and supreme talent makes allows him to reach speeds that are seemingly impossible. Bolt holds the world records in both the 100 m and 200 m races, and they are records we may not see broken for many years (or ever). He became famous for his races in Beijing 2008 (winning two gold medals and breaking two world records), but has gone on to win six more gold medals after the last two Olympic Games. Bolt is a worldwide celebrity and one of the most recognizable athletes ever. His performances are some of the most electric few seconds of Olympic viewing.