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
9 days 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.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Rafael
9 days ago

and kristina was robbed of the 100 back gold in 88 due to the east germans and should have 6 golds

Last edited 9 days ago by Old Man Chalmers
Steve Nolan
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

Eh, you can do that with a billion things tho. (What if no Lochte in 200 back in London? Prolly beats Phelps in the 200 IM, now he’s “only” got 12.)

Things are how they are.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 days ago

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

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Mr Piano
8 days ago

Ofc it is. Something out of Phelps’s control that would mean he has fewer gold medals. Seems comparable to whatever comparison the OP was making.

Splashanddasher
Reply to  Steve Nolan
6 days ago

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

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Splashanddasher
6 days ago

I was literally talking about 2012.

DTRB
9 days ago

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

Swimboy6577
Reply to  DTRB
9 days ago

This isn’t CCP swimswam

DTRB
Reply to  Swimboy6577
8 days ago

Thanks for making my point.

He said what?
Reply to  Swimboy6577
8 days ago

What is CCP? Don’t know that one.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  He said what?
8 days ago

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

Yozhik
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
8 days ago

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

He said what?
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
8 days 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?
8 days 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?
8 days 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
8 days ago

you know that it was CCCP not CCP right?

He said what?
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

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

He said what?
Reply to  Swimboy6577
8 days ago

It’s CCCP and not CCP

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  DTRB
8 days ago

Nyet

Joe Bagodonuts
Reply to  DTRB
8 days ago

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

He said what?
Reply to  Joe Bagodonuts
8 days ago

A few have slipped by.

Kudzai
9 days 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 9 days ago by Kudzai
Rafael
Reply to  Kudzai
8 days ago

Jenny Thompson Never an individual gold

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

Neither have the Campbell sisters.

Yozhik
Reply to  Kudzai
8 days 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
8 days 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