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Pick-Six: Top US Summer Olympians of all time

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America. Simply put, the United States have been dominant in recent years at the Olympics, and some of the greatest athletes in the world can call the US their home. To celebrate this patriotism during this year’s Olympics, this week’s Pick-Six takes a look at America’s greatest Summer Olympians of all-time.

6. Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph

In the 1960 Rome Games, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics, with two of the events being Olympic records, and one not being given the record because it was “wind-aided.” She was known as the fastest woman in the world, and for good reason. She was one of the most dominant female performers in the 20th century, and ended her career at the young age of 22. If she had continued into her 30’s like some tend to do, who knows how dominant she could’ve been.

5. Jackie Joyner-Kersee


Jackie Joyner-Kersee was named the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, and rightfully so given her performance at the Olympic level. She tallied three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in her Olympic career in the long jump and heptathlon, and set world records in the heptathlon four separate times. Her 7,291 points in the heptathlon are still a world record, and, even more impressive, she medaled in four different Olympics in these events. She’s one of the greatest female athletes of all-time, and the most dominant female Olympian (so far) in history.


4. Mark Spitz


To put it simply, Mark Spitz was the Michael Phelps of swimming before Phelps was even born. Spitz was a nine-time gold medalist, who set a record as he came in first in seven different events in Munich in the 1972 Olympics, setting then-world records in all seven events. He tallied 11 medals over his career, with just one silver and one bronze to go aside his golds. If it wasn’t for Phelps and his overall dominance, we could still be talking about Spitz as the greatest swimmer of all-time.

3. Jesse Owens


Jesse Owens arguably could be in the top two of this list, but his medal total is what held him back from consideration. However, he performed at an elite level at a time where the color of his skin made him an afterthought for many, including president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Owens let his skill do the talking, as he won four gold medals in the 100, 200, long jump and 4×100 relay in 1936, a feat no one could match until the number two Olympian on this list. His career ended shortly after the 1936 games, however, which prevented him from reaching the same heights as some of the country’s best Olympians.

2. Carl Lewis


I’m sure a lot of readers will have Carl Lewis at the top of their list, and most of their logic will be how there are less track events than swimming. I put Lewis as number two on the list, as I felt there was a clear number one, and Lewis didn’t quite matchup. Lewis was still dominant, however, with eight gold medals and one silver medal in his Olympic career. Some argue that he competed in a boycotted Olympics, but that doesn’t matter to me that he would’ve the best athlete at those events with or without the absent countries. He also tied Owens’ record from the 1936 Berlin Games with four gold medals in the 1984 Olympics, a feat that puts him over Owens in my opinion. His medal tally and record-tying performances are something to marvel at, and earned him the title of second-best US Summer Olympian of all-time on my list.

1. Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps of the U.S. poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre

Some may argue that it’s easier to get the number of medals Phelps has in swimming than in a sport like track due to the wide variety of swimming events in the Olympics, but you can’t argue against utter dominance. Phelps tallied (or has tallied depending on if you think he’ll return in four years) 28 medals in his career, with 23 gold, 3 silver, and two bronze. He holds the all-time records for gold medals, individual gold medals, individual medals, gold medals in a single Olympic Games, and is tied for the record single Games individual record. He’s the greatest swimmer of all-time, and, with no doubt in my mind, the greatest American Olympian ever.


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