At The Top Of Their Game: Mind-Blowing Facts About Olympic Gold Medalists

Just before 1900 (and after a nearly 1,500 year absence), the modern day Summer Games brought back the tradition of the Roman Olympics. Since that time there have been some amazing displays of athleticism, some major changes to the Olympics’ selection of games, and plenty of scandals. From a female Olympian who was actually a man in disguise, to a one-legged multiple gold medal winner, these athletes will inspire you, make you question the the legitimacy of the games, and even give you a good laugh. Check out the guy who stopped in the middle of a rowing competition to let a family of ducks pass by. You won’t believe what happened next.

Here are 20 of the most courageous, entertaining, and mind-blowing facts from the modern day Summer Olympics.

The First Modern Olympic ‘Gold’ Medalist

American James Connolly claimed the first modern day gold medal during the Athens Games in 1896. It was nearly 1,500 years earlier that the Olympic games had come to an end. Connolly took time off from his studies at Harvard University to compete in the triple jump. Although he took first place, there was no gold medal at the time. Instead he received a silver medal and an olive leaf.

Gold Medals Are Not Made Of Pure Gold

Gold medals haven’t been made out of pure gold in about 100 years. Instead, just under 10% of the medal is gold and it is mixed with silver. The gold plating wrapped around silver is what makes them the first place offering. The last year that 100% gold was used was 1912.

Usain Bolt’s Consistency Is Insane

Usain Bolt is an insanely talented athlete. He is the first person ever to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting. He excels in the 100m and 200m, and he holds world records in both. He was the first person to achieve a “double double,” by winning gold medals at both the 100m and 200m events at two consecutive Olympics (2008 and 2012). That apparently wasn’t good enough for him, so he added the “double triple” by winning in the 4x100m relay.

Mohammad Ali And The River

Cassius Clay won a gold medal in boxing at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He would later change his name to Mohammad Ali, but not before throwing his gold medal into the Ohio River after he was refused service at a whites-only restaurant. His friends have maintained that this was just a story made up by members of the media.

The Gold Medal Winner Who Wouldn’t Quit

Oscar Swahn was a Swedish shooter who claimed his last medal at the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72. He is still the oldest person to ever win a medal at the Olympics. He had previously won a gold medal at the 1912 Olympics, at the age of 64, making him the oldest gold medal winner of all-time.

The Last Winner Of The Equestrian Long Jump

The 1900 Paris Games featured a few Summer Olympics events that no longer exist. Two of those events were the equestrian long jump and a high jump. Belgian rider Constant van Langhendonck jumped nearly twenty feet to claim the gold medal. The top human long jumper ended around 27 feet.

A Super Fast Mustache?

In 1972, Olympian Mark Spitz joked that he kept his mustache because it helped “streamline” him and keep water away from his mouth. A sweatband made of hair, if you will. It was only a joke but after he won seven gold medals, many Russian swimmers showed up at the next Summer Olympics with mustaches.

A Gold And Silver Medalist at the Summer And Winter Olympics in the Same Year

Only one person has ever won medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year. That honor belongs to Christa Luding-Rothenburger. She won gold in speed skating in Calgary and then claimed a silver medal in track cycling at the Seoul Olympics. Both medals were won in 1988. This couldn’t happen again, since the games are two years apart from each other.

Gold Medal Winners At Both The Winter And Summer Games

It is a herculean task to win a gold medal at any Olympics, let alone winning one at both the Winter and Summer events. Four athletes have won medals at both the Winter and Summer Games: Eddie Eagan (United States), Jacob Tullin Thams (Norway), Christa Luding-Rothenburger (East Germany), and Clara Hughes (Canada).

The Scoreboards Couldn’t React

A perfect score in gymnastics is one of the hardest things to achieve in the Olympics, so when Nadia Comăneci scored a perfect 10.0 at Montreal in 1976, the scoreboards had no way to display the amazing number. Instead, they showed the score as 1.0. No gymnast has ever matched that performance.

The ART of the gold medal winner

French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a founding father of the modern Olympic Games, wanted to bring culture to the event. Starting at the 1912 Stockholm Games, gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music. Could you imagine an Olympian being handed a 100 lb sculpture on the winner’s podium instead of a medal?

A One-Legged Gold Medalist… Three Times Over

To win a gold medal at the Olympics is one of the hardest-fought goals of any athlete. Could you imagine winning six in one day? Six-time gold medalist George Eyser claimed one bronze, three gold, and two silver medals, all on the same day. Talk about dedication. His amazing feat occurred during the 1904 Olympic Games. He won in various events including rope climbing, vaulting and parallel bars — all with a wooden leg!

A Wrong-Handed Win

Hungarian pistol shooter Károly Takács was banned from the 1936 Games because he was a sergeant and only commissioned officers were allowed to compete. After the ban was lifted he went on to win Olympic gold medals in 1948 and 1952. Takács won those medals despite losing his shooting hand to a grenade during military training. He learned to shoot with his left hand and eventually claimed a piece of Olympic medal history.

A Duck Lover Wins Gold

During the 1928 Amsterdam Games, Australian rower Henry Pearce stopped in the middle of rowing to allow a family of ducks to pass. His act of kindness must have given him endless karma points because Henry went on to win his heat despite the kind gesture, and then he went on to win the gold medal.

The Male Who Won A Female Gold Medal

There have been many world records set by both males and females in the Olympics, but in this case, it was from both. Stanislawa Walasiewicz took home the gold medal in the 100 metre race at the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles. She was the first woman to break the 12-second barrier. During a robbery in 1980 she was killed, and the autopsy revealed her to be a male.

America’s First Female Olympic Champion Didn’t Realize She Was Competing

American Margaret Abbott was studying art in Paris in 1900 when the 22-year-old golfer entered a local tournament. She shot a 47 on the nine-hole course, won the tournament, and took home a porcelain bowl. It turns out Paris did a horrible job of planning the Olympic Games and didn’t bother telling Abbott that she had won a gold medal.

The Country With The Most Gold Medals

Even though there is technically no overall “winner” of the Olympics, is is still nice to total the number of gold medals and see which country comes out on top. The United States leads the all-time gold medal winner list with 2,406 first place prizes. The US is followed by Russia with 1,528 gold medal winners, and Germany with 1,305 first place wins.

Paintings Replaced Medals In Paris


Winners during the 1900 Olympics in Paris were given paintings instead of medals. The French believed a painting was far more valuable than a gold medal. It certainly does not have the same longevity as medals though, so it is unlikely many are still around today. We’re not sure how they chose which paintings the gold, silver, and bronze medalists should receive.

The Barefoot Gold Medalist

During the 1960 Rome Olympics, an Ethiopian man named Abebe Bikila won the gold medal in marathon running. He was not only the first African to win a gold medal, but he did it while barefoot. Finally, an athlete even Nike couldn’t find a way to endorse with their shoes.

Russia Pays Its Gold Medalists Better Than Any Country

Many countries pay Olympic participants for every Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medal they win. That’s good news for guys like Michael Phelps, but it would be even better news if he lived in Russia. US Olympic competitors can win a “medal bonus” of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for a bronze medal. In 2012 Russia paid $135,000 for a gold medal, $81,600 for silver and $54,400 for a bronze medal.