"I never went into an Olympics saying I want to get five medals, or I want to get six medals."
Making it to the Olympics is a major feat in itself but actually earning a place on the podium is an even bigger accomplishment. While winning a medal should be considered a major honor, some athletes take on what seems impossible and do it more than once!
In fact, some incredible Team USA athletes have earned over a dozen Olympic medals throughout their legendary careers. From track and field to shooting, these athletes have shown off their incredible abilities time and time again. Iconic swimmers Mark Spitz and Ryan Lochte each earned over 10 medals for Team USA during their time in the pool. And over the course of sixteen years, Michael Phelps brought home 28 medals, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Read on to find out which other athletes join them in the ranks...
Swimmer Garry Hall Jr. took home 10 medals during his Olympic career between 1996 and 2004. During the three Olympics he participated in, he was awarded five gold, three silver and two bronze medals. During his first Olympics in 1996, he took home four of those medals with just six years of swimming experience. He went on to attend the games in 2000 and 2004, taking home at least one gold medal each time.
“They told me it couldn’t be done in ‘96, because I was too immature, and then they said in 2000 I had diabetes and it couldn’t be done. And [in 2004] I think they said I was too old,” Gary said in a post race interview.
9. Carl Lewis - 10 Medals
Track and field athlete Carl Lewis has won 10 Olympic medals throughout his career — and nine of those were gold! He attended four Olympic games between 1984 and 1996, and also qualified for the games in 1980 but was unable to attend due to the American boycott. His ability to dominate multiple events, including the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the long jump, has led him to be considered one of the world’s greatest athletes.
Carl Osburn took part in three Olympics between 1912 and 1924. As a shooter, he won a total of 11 medals — five gold, four silver and two bronze. He became known as one of the most decorated shooters at the Olympic games and for many years was the all-time leading male medal winner for the United States at the Olympic Games.
7. Matt Biondi - 11 Medals
Swimmer Matt Biondi took home 11 medals during his Olympic career which saw him attend three games between 1984 and 1992. In total he’s been awarded eight gold, two silver and one bronze. He won the majority of his medals during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he was awarded five gold and one silver.
Mark Spitz’s Olympic swimming career made him a superstar around the world. He only competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics but took home 11 medals and almost all of them were gold. He made history at the 1972 games, winning seven gold medals in eight days and setting a world record in each of the four individual and three relay races that he entered.
“I never thought of what I was doing as historic. It was just a reaffirmation of what I had practiced doing for three years. I swam the same events over and over, trying to train my body to be as quick and efficient as possible. The old saying really does ring true: 'Hard work pays off,'" Mark told Parade.
5. Natalie Coughlin - 12 Medals
Natalie Coughlin won 12 medals during her Olympic career between 2004 and 2012. The swimmer took home three gold medals throughout her experiences at the games and was also awarded four silver and five bronze. In 2013, she won the bronze with the US team in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and effectively tied the record for the most career Olympic medals won by a female U.S. athlete.
“One of the reasons I had such an amazing career and have been so successful is I never set a goal to be the most decorated female athlete. I never went into an Olympics saying I want to get five medals, or I want to get six medals. I went into each Olympics and took each race one race at a time,” Natalie told NBCSports.
Between 1984 and 2008, swimmer Dara Torres participated in an impressive five Olympic games and was the first American to do so. She took home her first gold medal when she was just 17-years-old and went on to come out of retirement two times during her career in order to participate in the games. In total, she was awarded 12 medals — four gold, four silver and four bronze.
“There are a lot of middle-aged women and men I know that contacted me, emailed or stopped me in the street to tell me that I am an inspiration to them and are now doing things that they thought they couldn’t do. Age is really just a number and I’m hoping that my age paves the way for other athletes, who maybe think they are too old to do something, to get back in or continue in the sport,” Dara told Reuters.
Ryan Lochte has competed in four Olympic games so far in his career, spanning between 2004 and 2016. He’s taken home 12 medals, including six gold, three silver and three bronze. Seven of those medals have been individual wins, ranking him second in history of men’s swimming. Ryan has not yet retired, so there may be more medals in his future!
“Whenever you’re on the podium, you’re representing your country and you can’t be not happy. It doesn’t matter what color it is — gold, silver, bronze. You’re up there representing your country and it’s just an amazing feeling,” Ryan told Team USA.
Swimmer Jenny Thompson is the most decorated American female in Olympic history, with 12 medals. She has taken part in four Olympic games, where she’s earned eight gold, three silver and one bronze medal. The majority of her wins have been in the medley and freestyle relay events, during which she won her eight gold medals.
“I'm not swimming for the medals. But when I go and do clinics with kids no one's asking: oh, is that a relay or an individual? They want to see my medal. Oh, a Gold Medal! They don't care what it is,” Jenny told NBC.
Michael Phelps is not only the most decorated Team USA Olympian but also the most decorated Olympic competitor in the world. Between 2000 and 2016, Michael took home 28 medals and even though he didn’t take home any wins during his first Olympics, he sure made up for it in the following years. In 2004, he won eight medals, with six of them being gold. In 2008, he was awarded eight gold medals, taking home the top prize in every single event in which he competed. He then took home six medals at both the 2012 and 2016 games. During his final race at the 2016 Olympics, Michael explained that he knew he was ready to retire.
“I’m coming into my last four or five strokes, and I remember thinking, ‘Whatever happens, this is how it’s supposed to end. Maybe I’m going 6-for-6 and that’s perfect, or maybe Joe [Schooling] is going to hang on and I’m okay with that.’ That’s when I knew I was ready to retire. Any other time, I would have been livid about finishing second. And that was perfect. It was time to move on,” Michael told Sports Illustrated.