Top 9 American Summer Olympic Athletes of All Time

Top 9 American Summer Olympic Athletes of All Time

July 29, 2016 | American History

9. Greg Louganis

Most people seem to agree that Louganis is the greatest diver in history. He earned his first Olympic medal when he was just 16 years old. He placed second in Men's Platform for a silver medal in 1978, and he just got better from there. In the 1984 Olympic Games, Louganis won gold in both the springboard and platform events. He earned a score of 710.91 points, good for a record that remains unbroken. Four years later, he would miraculously sweep the two events again.

8. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie holds the distinction of winning six medals in her Olympic career, which is more than any other female in Olympic track and field history. That's impressive by itself, but she managed to win the medals throughout four different Olympics. The first signs of her greatness came with a silver medal in 1984, but Joyner-Kersee really began to shine in 1988. She won gold in both the heptathlon and the long jump while setting a heptathlon world record with 7,291 points, which still stands today.

7. Mary Lou Retton

Retton only competed in one Olympic Games, but she managed to win 5 medals while doing it. She earned silver medals in team competition and horse vault, as well as bronze medals in floor exercise and uneven bars. Four medals in one year is incredible, but to top it all off she won gold in the all-around individual competition. To win, Retton scored a perfect 10 on her last two events, making her one of the most popular athletes in American history.

6. Florence Griffith Joyner

Joyner is widely known as the fastest woman of all time. She earned this distinction by setting world records at the 1988 Summer Olympics in both 100 and 200 meter races. She completed the 100 meter race in just 10.49 seconds and the 200 meter race in a blazing 21.34 seconds. This 21.34 second time beat her own record that she set earlier in the same competition. To cap it all off, Joyner competed in both team events leading her team to first and second place finishes.

5. Jim Thorpe

Thorpe is widely viewed as the greatest all-around athlete of the 20th century. His versatility helped him win two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics with victories in the pentathlon and decathlon. King Gustav V presented Thorpe with his medals and famously proclaimed, "You are the greatest athlete in the world." In his mild mannered way, Thorpe replied simply, "Thanks king." Even though he never competed in the Olympics again, Thorpe's all-around ability will likely remain unmatched.

4. Mark Spitz

In the 1972 Olympics, Spitz made history by winning every event he competed in en route to seven gold medals. In the process, he managed to set a new world record in every event he competed in. Throughout two Olympics, he earned a total of eleven medals. Two were gold, one was silver, and one was bronze. His achievement of seven gold medals in one Games has only been surpassed by number one on this list.

3. Carl Lewis

Over the course of twelve years, Carl Lewis cemented his place in history as the greatest track and field athlete of all time. He managed to win a whopping ten medals in his Olympic career, nine of them gold. His mastery of the 100 meter, 200 meter, 4x100 relay, and long jump made him nearly impossible to beat. Lewis won the long jump event four straight times, tied for an Olympic record.

2. Jesse Owens

Owens is best known for his achievements in the 1936 Olympics. He won four god medals that year while breaking or tying nine Olympic records and setting three world records. His accomplishments were also felt outside the world of sports, as the games were held in Adolf Hitler's Germany. His success at the games proved to the world that a hero should never be judged by the color of their skin.

1. Michael Phelps

From 2004 to 2008, Phelps made his claim as the greatest swimmer of all time. He did this by earning eight gold medals in one Games, breaking Mark Spitz's record. He is only the second athlete of any kind to win eight gold medals in one Olympics, and to top it all of he did it twice. He also holds the record for most Olympic medals all-time with 22.