Some 20,629 athletes from 219 country teams have competed in athletics at 28 stagings of the Olympic Games. Currently 953 gold medals have been awarded across 951 events. This total includes 950 regular golds plus three more. An extra gold in the 1908 men’s pole vault where there were two champions, plus the additional two golds awarded posthumously to Jim Thorpe for the 1912 Pentathlon and Decathlon.
Excluded from that golds total is one more which was taken back by the IOC, and not redistributed as at June 10, 2016. That is the women’s 100m of the 2000 Olympic Games. Marion Jones (USA) was disqualified for a doping violation, but the IOC did not pass her medal to the runner-up, Katerína Thánou (GRE).
Included in the total of 952 are golds from three 2012 events where the winner has been disqualified by the IAAF for drug-taking. These events are the men’s 50km Walk and women’s 1500m & 3000m Steeplechase. As at June 10, 2016, the IOC have not publicly announced any re-allocations of all these medals, though Habiba Ghribi (TUN) already received a gold medal in a special ceremony on June 4, 2016. Another is planned for Jared Tallent (AUS) on June 17, 2016.
The largest edition of Olympic athletics was in Sydney 2000 with 2137 athletes from 193 countries competing in 46 events. The number of participants was more than double that of the Games of 1968, 1976 or 1980. The official total of countries in 2000 was 194, but that included Nauru, whose one entrant (Cherico Detenamo) did not actually compete in the first round of the men’s 100m. The most countries to have competed at a Games is 202 in 2012. That total includes South Sudan and Curacão, whose representatives competed as Independent Olympic Athletes.
The most Games contested by a country in athletics is 28 (all of them, including 1906) by four countries, Australia, France, Great Britain & NI and Greece. Three more countries have missed just one year, Denmark (1904), Sweden (1904) and the United States (1980).
The most Games contested by an athlete is seven by sprinter Merlene Ottey/Page (JAM/SLO) in 1980-2004. The men’s record is six by distance runner João N’Tyamba (ANG) in 1988-2008, high jumper Dragutin Topic (IOP/YUG/SCG/SRB) in 1992-2012 and walker Jesús Ángel García (ESP) also in 1992-2012.
The first Olympic Champion in athletics was James Connolly (USA), winner of the triple jump in Athens on April 6, 1896. The most recent champion was Stephen Kiprotich (UGA), who won the marathon in London on August 13, 2012.
By far the most medals won by a country is 785.8 by the United States, with the fraction resulting from the 1904 team race where only four-fifths of the silver-winning team were actually American.
The most medals won by an individual athlete is 12 by distance runner Paavo Nurmi (FIN) in 1920-28. His greatest year was 1924 with five golds including the 1500m and 5000m within 90 minutes. The most by a woman is nine by sprinter Merlene Ottey/Page (JAM) at 100m, 200m and 4x100m in 1980, 1984 and 1992-2000. She won three silvers and six bronzes, missing the 1996 100m gold by a margin of just five-thousandths of a second. Shirley Strickland (AUS) won seven medals at 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay in 1948-1956. Photo-finish evidence from London 1948 proved that she should have taken one more medal, a bronze from the 200m. She was officially placed fourth and that result has so far not been amended, though Athletics Australia have made a new bid for Strickland to be awarded an additional medal.
The most individual medals, and also the most gold medals won is 10 by Ray Ewry (USA) at standing jumps events in 1900-1908. He scored 10 wins from 10 starts in the standing high, long and triple jumps, all events which have been discontinued. The women’s record is held by Merlene Ottey/Page (JAM) at 100m (three medals) and 200m (four).
The most golds won by a woman is four by six women. Fanny Blankers-Koen (NED) won the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m in 1948. Betty Cuthbert (AUS) won at 100m, 200m and 4x100m in 1956 then took the 400m title in 1964. Bärbel Eckert/Wöckel (GDR) won at both 200m and 4x100m in 1976 and 1980. Evelyn Ashford (USA) won the 100m and 4x100m in 1984 and went on to take sprint relay golds at the next two Games. In 2012, Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards Ross (both USA) took their fourth golds. Felix won the 4x400m in 2008 and the 200m with both relays in 2012. Richards Ross won the 4x400m in 2004, 2008 and 2012 and also the individual 400m in 2012.
The longest winning streak of Olympic titles at four successive Games is a distinction achieved four times by three men, all from the United States: Ray Ewry succeeded at the standing high and long jumps in 1900, 1904, 1906 and 1908. Al Oerter won the discus throw in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968. Carl Lewis was long jump champion in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. The best “four Games” sequence by a woman is now held by Derartu Tulu (ETH) with her series of finishes in the 10,000m in 1992-2004 of gold-4th-gold-bronze.
The most golds won at a single Games is five by Paavo Nurmi (FIN) in 1924, with victories at 1500m, 5000m, 3000m team and cross country (individual and team). Four golds at one Games were won by Alvin Kraenzlein (USA) in 1900, Ville Ritola (FIN) in 1924, Jesse Owens (USA) in 1936 and Carl Lewis (USA) in 1984. Fanny Blankers-Koen (NED) was also a quadruple champion in 1948 as noted above.
The oldest Olympic Champion in athletics was Pat McDonald (USA), who won the 56-pound weight throw in 1920 at the age of 42 years 26 days. The oldest female winner was Ellina Zvereva (BLR), discus throw champion in 2000 at 39 years 316 days.
The youngest gold medallist was Barbara Jones (USA), who ran the second leg for the winning sprint relay team in 1952 at 15 years 123 days. The youngest male winner was Bob Mathias (USA), decathlon champion in 1947 at 17 years 263 days.
Sweeps of all available medals have been achieved 88 times, most recently by Jamaica in the men’s 200m of 2012.
The most finals or placings in the top eight at the same event is six by discus thrower Lia Manoliu (ROU) who placed 6th-9th-bronze- bronze-gold-9th in 1952-1972. The most by a man is five by the Ukrainian Vladimir Golubnichniy (URS) at 20km walk in 1960-1976, Jan Železný (TCH/SVK/CZE) in the javelin throw 1988-2004, and Virgilijus Alekna (LTU) at discus throw in 1996-2012.
The most races run in Olympic competition are 53 by Merlene Ottey/Page (JAM) in the various rounds of the 100m, 200m and both relays across seven Games. She won 25 of these, but never in a final. The most by a man is 33 by Pietro Mennea (ITA) at 100m, 200m and both relays in 1972-1988.
Feats which could be achieved in Rio 2016 include a first woman to win individual gold at the third successive Games. Shelly-Ann Fraser- Pryce (JAM), Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH), Barbora Špotáková (CZE) and Valerie Adams (NZL) all have the chance to do that.
Another sprinter, Veronica Campbell-Brown (JAM) could well join Merlene Ottey/Page as a medallist at five different Olympics, but the biggest Jamaican feat could be from Usain Bolt if he can win a third successive gold at 100m or 200m. That’s never been done in any individual track event. Jesús Ángel García (ESP) is already selected for the 50 kilometres walk, so is set to equal Merlene Ottey’s outright appearance record of seven Games. Finally, will the first South American Olympics see triple jumper Caterine Ibargüen win Colombia’s first Olympic athletics gold?