I don’t remember when I subscribed, but I’ve been receiving Rolling Stone magazine’s daily emails for several years. At this point it’s become background noise; I barely glance at it before sending it to the trash folder. This week, though, something finally interested me. There’s a story listing the Greatest 100 U.S. Olympians.
There are several lists like this floating around the Internet- the Greatest American athletes, the Top English-Speaking Musicians, etc… I’m as pro-American as anyone – I’ve got 30-odd years in a military uniform, the Star-Spangled Banner still brings a tear to my eye, and I proudly buy American. But by consistently limiting our scope to Americans, we’re cheating ourselves. It’s a big world out there, and we owe it to ourselves to learn a little more about the accomplishments outside the English-speaking parts. As the world shrinks and it becomes increasingly difficult to fence ourselves in from other cultures, it’s more important than ever to have a working knowledge of other cultures.
And there’s nothing wrong with broadening our horizons a little. As far as the Olympics are concerned, that means more than paying attention to the occasional Romanian gymnast. We’re starting here at home – as we watch the Sochi Winter Olympics, my wife has become fascinated with the really cute French guy in the Biathalon.
So in the interest of fairness, I’ve thrown together a list of some top non-American Olympians from recent history (thanks, Wikipedia):
Larisa Semyonovna Latynina, a gymnast for the Soviet Union, held the record for most Olympic medals until Michael Phelps came along. Between 1956 and 1964, she took home 18 medals – 14 individual medals (still a record) and 4 team medals. Nine of those were gold. After she retired from competition in 1966, she became a coach for the Soviet gymnastics team, leading them to even more wins. Do you want to know why the USSR dominated gymnastics for so long? Blame Latynina – she got the ball rolling.
Japan’s Sawao Kato, who competed in the Olympics from 1968-76, still hold the Olympic record for most gold medals won by a male gymnast (eight). In those three games, he won a total of twelve medals. Kato was he top member of the Japanese team that dominated world gymnastics at the time. Over the years, Kato won individual gold medals in the floor exercise and the parallel bars, and also won the individual all-around in 1968.
A cross-country skier, Bjørn Dæhlie of Norway won eight Olympic gold medals, which ties him ties him for the title of most successful winter Olympic champion, of all-time. From 1992-1999, he won a total of 12 medals. He won a total of 29 medals in the Olympics and World Championships, which makes him the most successful cross-country skier in history.
Carl Schuhmann of Germany was the original modern Olympic hero, competing in the 1896 games. He won the gold in the horse vault, and was also part of the national team that won the horizontal bar and parallel bars events. After finishing with gymnastics, Schuhmann hit the mats and won the gold medal in wrestling, even though he was much lighter than most of his competitors. While he was at it, he also competed in the long jump, shot put, and weightlifting events. Wow.
Fencer Edoardo Mangiarotti of Italy took part in five Olympic games, winning six Olympic gold medals, five silver and two bronze medals titles between 1936 and 1960. The son of a national fencing champion, Mangiarotti earned a place on the national team himself at age 16, and was part of the gold-medal winning epee team in the Olympics the next year.