In this series ahead of Tokyo 2020, we will take a look at athletes who have been an integral part of the Olympic Games folklore over the past century and more.

Paavo Nurmi: Flying Finn


  • Olympic Medals: 9 Gold, 3 Silver
  • Olympic Games participations: 3
  • First Olympic Games: Antwerp 1920
  • Year of Birth1897

Nurmi made his Olympic debut at the 1920 Antwerp Games. He took the competition by storm winning gold medals in the 10,000m, the cross-country individual and team event. He also claimed a silver in the 5,000m. At the 1924 Paris Games, Nurmi made history by becoming the first athlete ever to win five gold medals at a single Olympic Games. In the space of four astonishing days, Nurmi won the 1500m, the 5,000m, the 3,000m team event and the two cross-country events.

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One of the Olympics’ first superstars, Finland’s Nurmi dominated the Games in the 1920s, winning nine gold medals and three silvers.

He stole the show at Antwerp 1920, winning golds for the 10,000m, individual and team cross-country, and taking silver in the 5,000m, all in the space of just three days.

In the 1924 Paris Olympics he was untouchable, winning the 1,500m before returning to the track just over an hour later in searing heat to win 5,000m gold.

Two days later Nurmi defended his cross-country titles in temperatures in excess of 40C (104F) before the next day winning the 3,000m team race and becoming the first athlete to win five golds at a single Olympics.

It could have been six but Finnish team officials, fearing for his health, refused to allow Nurmi to line up for his 10,000m defence.

An angry Nurmi returned to Finland and immediately posted a new 10,000m world record that stood for 13 years.

He reclaimed his 10,000m gold in 1928 in Amsterdam, adding silvers in the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase.

He was controversially barred from the Los Angeles 1932 Olympics three days before the 10,000m for allegedly receiving payment to race in Germany, denying him a chance of a 10th gold medal.

Paavo Nurmi at the Olympic Games

Games Finish Discipline Event
Amsterdam 1928 Silver 5,000 metres Athletics
Gold 10,000 metres Athletics
Silver 3,000 metres Steeplechase Athletics
Paris 1924 Gold 1,500 metres Athletics
Gold 5,000 metres Athletics
Gold Cross-Country, Individual Athletics
Gold Cross-Country, Team Athletics
Gold 3,000 metres, Team Athletics
Antwerp 1920 Silver 5,000 metres Athletics
Gold 10,000 metres Athletics
Gold Cross-Country, Individual Athletics
Gold Cross-Country, Team Athletics

Most overall medals at the Summer Games

Athlete Overall medals Nation Sport Years Gender
Michael Phelps 28  United States Swimming 2004–2016 M
Larisa Latynina 18  Soviet Union Gymnastics 1956–1964 F
Nikolai Andrianov 15  Soviet Union Gymnastics 1972–1980 M
Boris Shakhlin 13  Soviet Union Gymnastics 1956–1964 M
Edoardo Mangiarotti 13  Italy Fencing 1936–1960 M
Takashi Ono 13  Japan Gymnastics 1952–1964 M
Paavo Nurmi 12  Finland Athletics 1920–1928 M
Birgit Fischer-Schmidt 12 East Germany / Germany Canoeing 1980–2004 F
Sawao Katō 12 Japan Gymnastics 1968–1976 M
Jenny Thompson 12 USA Swimming 1992–2004 F
Ryan Lochte 12 USA Swimming 2004–2016 M
Dara Torres 12 USA Swimming 1984–2008 F
Alexei Nemov 12  Russia Gymnastics 1996–2000 M
Natalie Coughlin 12 USA Swimming 2004–2012 F

(With IOC and AFP inputs)

(Video title incorrectly says 9 gold X 1 Games. He won 9 gold medals in all)