How Difficult Is It To Win Multiple Olympic Gold Medals In Individual Events?

Over the last four Olympic Games, Michael Phelps has won so many medals that some people might think that winning multiple medals at the Olympics is not a difficult task.

But it is. Especially when we talk about gold medals in individual events.

Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published the swimmers with the most Olympic gold medals in individual events. Phelps is a clear outlier, with 13. But, before Phelps, only one swimmer had won five individual events at the Olympics. Winning four or five gold medals is a task for a few.

Let’s put this into perspective. Speaking only of individual events, almost 8,000 athletes have swum at least one event at the Olympic Games. Only 327 of them have won at least one gold medal. 93 of them have won multiple medals. And, as you can see on the post, only 12 have won four medals or more.

Let’s forget about Phelps for one moment. Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi accomplished an amazing feat during the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics: winning five Olympic gold medals in individual events – 200 back in 1988; 100, 200 back, and 400 IM in 1992; 200 back in 1996 – something that no swimmer had done before in 100 years of Olympic Games, and only Phelps would manage to surpass.

(In fact, Egerszegi could have won six gold medals. In 1996, her backstroke lead-off time in the 4×100 medley relay was faster than the winning time in the 100 backstroke final, an event she opted not to compete in.)

Apart from Phelps and Egerszegi, 10 swimming legends have managed to win four Olympic gold medals in individual events. Two of them won those four gold medals in a single edition: Mark Spitz and Kristin Otto. Roland Matthes, Tamás Darnyi, Alexander Popov, Yana Klochkova, and Kosuke Kitajima won double gold in two Olympics. Janet Evans, Inge de Bruijn and Katie Ledecky won three gold medals in one Olympics, and one gold medal in another.

So, in the future, when you see a swimmer winning their fourth gold medal in an individual event, you’ll certainly be watching a swimming legend.

Katinka Hosszu has three gold medals, and she can equal or even surpass Egerszegi if she wins at least two gold medals in Tokyo.

Katie Ledecky needs to win “only” two individual events in Tokyo to move into the #2 spot, which seems very likely. Best case scenario, she’ll win the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 free, and will have eight gold medals in individual events. An impossible feat, some would say 20 years ago. After all, it took 100 years for the Olympic Games to see one single swimmer, Krisztina Egerszegi, win five gold medals. Swimmers like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Katinka Hosszu are truly raising the bar.

As someone has pointed out, a swimmer with no Olympic gold medals is five medals behind the second ever, who is eight medals behind Michael Phelps. So it is easier to move from last to second than it is to move from second to first.

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Rafael
7 months ago

But the boycott of the 80s took gold from some guys, Salkinov could easily won 400/1500 at LA and would have reached 5 gold medals before Kristina.

Babashoff due to east germans doping.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

That’s not at all comparable. It’s more like if 2012 was boycotted, so Phelps only got 11 individual gold instead.

Splashanddasher
Reply to  Mr Piano
7 months ago

Lochte literally only swam the 200 IM in Rio as an individual event and proceeded to get demolished by Phelps.

DTRB
7 months ago

Is it possible to report a user who posts mean spiritedcomments?

Swimboy6577
Reply to  DTRB
7 months ago

This isn’t CCP swimswam

DTRB
Reply to  Swimboy6577
7 months ago

Thanks for making my point.

He said what?
Reply to  Swimboy6577
7 months ago

What is CCP? Don’t know that one.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  He said what?
7 months ago

How about borscht, caviar, vodka, sputnik, yuri?

Yozhik
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

FYI. The borscht isn’t a part of Russian traditional cuisine.

He said what?
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

Thanks for the clues. Once I read your reply it dawned on me that Swimboy left out a very important “C” from his response. CCCP = USSR.

Yozhik
Reply to  He said what?
7 months ago

😀 when I came to America long time ago I was surprised how strong propaganda was here. Very nice old lady who was helping our family to adopt to new life was sincerely surprised that there were public libraries in the city I came from. She didn’t understand how people can get to the library if bears are wandering on the streets.
So get easy on stereotypes. 😀

DTRB
Reply to  He said what?
7 months ago

They’re saying this isn’t communist China or Russia. They’re saying it’s ok to comment any way they want on here.

Rafael
Reply to  Swimboy6577
7 months ago

you know that it was CCCP not CCP right?

He said what?
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Thank you. The missing “C” had me wondering what the heck CCP was.

He said what?
Reply to  Swimboy6577
7 months ago

It’s CCCP and not CCP

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  DTRB
7 months ago

Nyet

Joe Bagodonuts
Reply to  DTRB
7 months ago

I doubt that truly mean-spirited posts would make it past the censor.

He said what?
Reply to  Joe Bagodonuts
7 months ago

A few have slipped by.

Kudzai
7 months ago

Multiple gold medals at one Olympics is incredibly difficult…. Most swimmers who have done so have been successful in doubling eg 50/100free; 200/400IM ; 100/200fly etc…. in general, the list of swimmers with multiple individual medals (never mind gold) reflects the difficulty of winning *individual* Olympic medals… Relay event medals mask the sheer difficulty of winning individual medals…. A swimmer like Kirsty Coventry from a small country like Zimbabwe won 7 individual Olympic medals btween 2004-2008 (2golds)…. Had she been from US/Aus (and ofcourse made the olympic team) she could have potentially bagged more medals in the medly relay +/- freestyle relays even as a prelims only swimmer…. Multiple individual olympic medals are an indeed an incredibly amazing achievement…. If… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Kudzai
Rafael
Reply to  Kudzai
7 months ago

Jenny Thompson Never an individual gold

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Neither have the Campbell sisters.

Yozhik
Reply to  Kudzai
7 months ago

Why do you disrespect Maya DiRiado’s outstanding Olympic achievement. Hosszu didn’t miss the gold medal in 200BK. She lost this race to Olympic Champion Maya DiRado. Why don’t you mention that Olympic medal in 100BK was given to Hosszu as a charity gift from world record holders Baker and Masse who swam very modest by their standards 58.7+ in final race.
Hosszu won 100 and didn’t win. 200 and that is it.
The history of Olympic Games knows so many cases when swimmers were so close to to fulfil their Olympic dream and failed. That is the drama that is more interesting than medal count.

Dudeman
Reply to  Yozhik
7 months ago

That example would work if Baker and Masse didn’t swim some of their best times in 2016. They only hit world records after the Olympics so Hosszu won that 100 back by having a great swim amongst other very good swims

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

Events without repeat gold medalists at the Summer Olympic Games:

Women’s 200 meter freestyle
Women’s 1500 meter freestyle (wise ass)
Women’s 100 meter breaststroke
Women’s 100 meter butterfly
Women’s 200 meter butterfly

Someone else can research the men’s side.

Kudzai
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

Lilly King , Sarah Sjostrom (injury concern) & Ledecky may potentially have something to think about looking at your list

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Kudzai
7 months ago

I was hoping one of the swimswam writers would ask Katie Ledecky if she will attempt the 200 FR/1500 FR double/double (heats/final). Sounds awfully brutal.

Last edited 7 months ago by Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
John26
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

I think it’s only the men’s 200 free

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  John26
7 months ago

Yep (and technically the 800 free too lol).

Popov covers 50/100 free, Thorpe 400, Hackett 1500. Kitajima with the breaststrokes, Roland Matthes with the backstrokes. Phelps the fly and the IMs.

Mr Piano
7 months ago

13… that’s just phenomenal.

flex tape cant fix that
7 months ago

I think it is pretty difficult.

Source: Trust me bro

Murilo
7 months ago

Caeleb will win 9 medals this summer…50,100,200 free, 100 fly, 4×100 free, 4×200 free, 4×100 IM, 4×100 IM mix, 4×100 free mix. He could try 200 IM but I think he will go with 200free instead.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Murilo
7 months ago

The mixed 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay is not an event at the Summer Olympic Games.

eagleswim
Reply to  Murilo
7 months ago

what do you think “IM” stands for? also, no mixed free relay

Walter
Reply to  eagleswim
7 months ago

Individual medley, thereby ruling out a relay which is not “individual.”

An IM relay would be 4 individuals doing a 100 (?) IM.

Shawn
Reply to  Murilo
7 months ago

Nah Dressel will win 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500free, 100fly, 200fly, 100breast, 200 breast, 100 back, 200 back, 200im, 400im, 4*100free, 4*200free, 4*100im, 4*100im mix, oh and not to mention the 10k, just as a part of his warm down.

Rafael
Reply to  Shawn
7 months ago

Also will do all the diving and take his Sister ID to do The artistic part of aquatics

W_P_1
Reply to  Shawn
7 months ago

But what about Dean Farris?

Drewbrewsbeer
Reply to  W_P_1
7 months ago

Swims only the 1500, but breaks the world records in the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 at the splits and loses to Dressel by .1

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Murilo
7 months ago

In the men’s 200 meter freestyle:

Yang win
Dressel lose

maybe?
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

Dressel will not compete in individual 200 free in Tokyo, His events will be:
1. 50 free
2. 100 free
3. 100 fly
4. 4×100 free relay
5. ( maybe ) 4×200 free relay
6. 4×100 medley relay
7. 4×100 mixed medley relay
and will medal in all those events except maybe 4×200 free relay

Yang will be banned and Scott will win 200 freestyle in Tokyo and sbout to the camera “I’m winner, you loser”

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  maybe?
7 months ago

Does Scott get reprimanded by the IOC for his outburst? That is the question.

Robbos
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
7 months ago

This isn’t CCCP Olympics!!!!

Math
7 months ago

It’s easy peasy lemon squeasy