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The Most Decorated Olympians in History

The long and storied history of the Olympic games has many notable individuals who have achieved greatness in their chosen sports. Bronze, silver and gold medals have become synonymous with victory and accomplishment. Here are just a few names who have distinguished themselves as some of the most decorated athletes to compete at the highest levels of competition:

(Also see: The Fascinating History of Olympic Medals)

Carl Lewis

His name has become synonymous with Olympic glory for his participation in track and field events from the mid-80's to the mid-90's. He has ten medals in all, winning four gold in Los Angeles during the 1984 Games, two gold during the 1988 Games in Seoul, two more in Barcelona in 1992, and his final gold medal in 1996 at the Atlanta Games. He was consistently perched at the top of the world rankings in many events including the 100 meter, 200 meter, and long jump competitions during that same time. Lewis also holds the distinction of being named Sports Illustrated magazine's Olympian of the Century as well as Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.

Birgit Fischer

The name may not be as familiar to you as some others on our list, but she holds the distinction of being not just the youngest athlete to win her sport of canoeing she's also the oldest at ages 18 and 42, respectively. She competed in six different Olympic games and won eight gold medals in that time. She can also claim the distinction of winning medals for both East Germany and the country of Germany after reunification. Fischer is among the most decorated female Olympians in the long history of the Olympic Games as she also holds four silver medals in addition to the eight gold medals she won for two different countries.

Mark Spitz

Swimming has long been one of the strongest sports for American Olympic athletes as many of our best and brightest have won a multitude of medals in a variety of events. Among the most notable is Mark Spitz, who held the record for the most gold medals won at a single Olympic games (Munich 1972), until Michael Phelps beat it 35 years later in 2008. Spitz's full tally includes those seven gold medals in 1972, along with two more gold, one silver, and one bronze earned in both the 1972 Games and the 1968 Games in Mexico City. He still holds the record for setting a world record in seven different events, the same ones in which he earned those gold medals in 72. He was named World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine in 1969, 1971, and 1972 and is still considered one of the greatest swimmers who ever competed in the Olympics.

Sawao Kato

This Japanese gymnast also holds an impressive count of medals earned in a small period of time. He won 12 medals in all from 1968 to 1976, earning eight gold, three silver, and one bronze and continues to hold the record for most gold medals won by a male gymnast and a Japanese Olympic athlete. He was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2001 and remains one of the best to ever compete in floor exercises, team competition, and parallel bar events.

Michael Phelps

The man who beat Spitz's record isn't just one of the most decorated Olympians ever, he's also become a household name since winning 22 Olympic medals in all, 18 gold, two silver, and two bronze. That medal tally is broken up in rather impressive chunks as he won six in 2004 at Athens, the aforementioned eight to beat Spitz's record in Beijing, and four gold in London in 2012. He also holds world records in a number of events including the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter butterfly, and the 400 meter individual medley. Like many of the athletes on our list, Phelps has been awarded various accolades such as World Swimmer of the Year on seven different occasions, American Swimmer of the Year on nine. Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year in 2008.

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