Arguably the biggest story line coming into this Olympics was Michael Phelps' pursuit of becoming the most medaled Olympian in history. After his gold medal-winning performance with the U.S. in the 4x200 relay teamy, his mission was accomplished in his third Olympics. Phelps then continued his medal run by beating teammate Ryan Lochte for gold in their final showdown in the 200-meter individual medley. In the final individual race of his career, he won the 100-meter butterfly. Not only does Phelps have the most medals, but also 17 of them are gold -- eight more than the next best gold haul.
2 of 14
Larisa Latynina - 18
A Soviet Union gymnast, Latynina held the record of 18 ever since the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. She was the main force in established a long-lived dominance in gymnastics by the Soviet Union. She still holds the record for most individual medals with 14.
3 of 14
Nikolai Andrianov - 15
Andrianov began his Olympic venture eight years after fellow Soviet Union gymnast Latrisa Latynina hung it up. Over the course of three Olympics, Andrianov won 15 medals, seven gold.
4 of 14
Boris Shakhlin - 13
After starting gymnastics at age 12, Shakhlin claimed gold medals in all three Olympics in which he participated and 13 in all. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he was forced to retire after a heart attack two years after he last won a medal.
5 of 14
Edoardo Mangiarotti - 13
The first European to crack the list is Italian fencer Edoardo Mangiarotti. His Olympic medal-winning career encompassed four decades and six Olympic venues. By the time he had finally decided to retire in 1961, Mangiarotti had earned six gold medals, five silver and two bronze.
6 of 14
Takashi Ono - 13
The fourth gymnast on the list, Ono was a four-time Olympic participant, which is rare among gymnasts. He was never quite as dominant as some of the other members on this list, but did take home five gold medals, four silver and four bronze.
7 of 14
Paavo Nurmi - 12
Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi made his debut in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium. He participated in four events, taking home gold in three and a silver in the other. That kick-started an unbelievable dominant streak, resulting in nine gold medals and three silvers.
8 of 14
Birgit Fischer - 12
Fischer's Olympic career spanned seven Games, in which she represented both East Germany and Germany, with the boycotted 1984 games in between. She was both the youngest and oldest canoeist to win a gold -- at age 18, and then at 42. Even after retiring three times from the sport, her passion never died -- her eight gold medals are a testament to her talent never fading either.
9 of 14
Bjørn Dæhlie - 12
Daehlie is the only Winter Olympian on this list, and the most successful cross-country skier in history. The Norwegian's 12 medals don't include a single bronze. Even though Daehlie retired from the sport at a shockingly early age, he is still renown for being the most successful Winter Olympian of all-time.
10 of 14
Sawao Kato - 12
Kato reigned during a dominant era for Japanese gymnastics, when they won back-to-back team gold medals. Kato still holds the record for most gold medals by any Olympian male gymnast (8).
11 of 14
Jenny Thompson - 12
Thompson, the second swimmer and second American on the list, disappointing in her initial Olympics in which she was favored to win five gold medals. After her final Olympics in 2004, at the age of 31, she had collected eight gold medals, three silver and one bronze.
12 of 14
Dara Torres - 12
Torres is the only American swimmer to compete in five Olympics. As a member of the 2008 team, she was the oldest swimmer to ever earn a medal in the Games. She earned three silver medals in Beijing, bringing her total to 12.
13 of 14
Alexei Nemov - 12
Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov accumulated his 12 medals over just two Olympic Games. He participated in his third Olympics in 2004, and while he didn't medal, he was caught up in the middle of a scoring controversy in which he wasn't put into medal contention even after a very difficult high bars routine. Nemov was known for his gamesmanship and his ability to push the limits.
14 of 14
Natalie Coughlin - 12
U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin increased her medal count to 12 just recently in London in the 400m freestyle relay. She isn't scheduled to swim in another race, but she is being considered for the 400m medley race. If she were to medal in that event, she would become the most decorated female swimmer in Olympic history.
You May Like
More SI Kids
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!