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Top 20 Olympic legends

Players have started trickling in to Rio, the host of the 2016 Olympics that will begin in less than three day's time. Every edition of the Olympics gives the athletes a chance to rewrite history and this time, it will be no different. Over the years, many have used the platform to announce their arrival or establish their supremacy.

Here'a a look at the some of the athletes who went on to attain legendary status, thanks to their performances at the Games:

Steve Redgrave, the awesome oarsman

The message couldn't have been any clearer when, at Lake Lanier outside Atlanta in 1996, Britain's Redgrave declared:

Photo: Reuters
"Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me." Redgrave had, at the age of 34, just won rowing gold for the fourth Games in a row and on live TV, he announced his retirement in unequivocal fashion. Yet four years later -- after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1997, and suffering with debilitating ulcerative colitis since before the 1992 Barcelona Games -- he put his ailing, 38-year-old body through a punishing training regime one last time and achieved another Olympic triumph, as a member of the coxless fours. In doing so Redgrave became the only endurance sport athlete to win five golds in five consecutive Games: 1984 (coxed fours), 1988, 1992, 1996 (coxless pairs) and 2000 (coxless fours). His secret? "I decided that diabetes had to live with me, not me live with it," he said.






Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian

A hyperactive child, Phelps was encouraged into swimming aged seven to give his boundless energy an outlet, and became the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Photo: Reuters
The "Baltimore Bullet" came home empty-handed from his first Games at Sydney 2000 when just 15. But a slew of world records over the next three years led to a dominant display at Athens 2004 as Phelps took six gold and two bronze medals, the second-best performance at an Olympic Games after fellow US swimmer Mark Spitz's seven golds in 1972. At Beijing four years later, Phelps claimed the all-time record when in the 4x100m medley relay he completed a haul of eight golds in one Games -- seven of them with world record times. Australian arch-rival Ian Thorpe had prior to Athens said it would be "impossible" to win eight golds -- a statement which Phelps kept on his locker as a motivation. At London four years later he became the most decorated Olympian of all time, taking his total to 18 golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Having just turned 31, he is aiming to extend his record in his fifth Games this year, having qualified for three individual events at the recent US trials by winning the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.






Ian Thorpe, the freestyle king

"Thorpedo" won five gold medals, the most by an Australian, with three in his home Sydney 2000 Games (400m free, 4x200m and 4x100m freestyle relays) and two more in Athens (400m free, 200m free) four years later.

Photo: AP
At the 2004 Games, Michael Phelps opted to compete in the 200m freestyle in a quest to win a record eight gold medals, which Thorpe called "impossible". The 200m final was dubbed the "Race of the Century" as Thorpe and Phelps lined up against two former world record-holders, Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and Australia's Grant Hackett. It proved Thorpe's greatest victory. Van den Hoogenband turned more than a second ahead of world record pace at 100 metres but Thorpe was never more than a body length away and chased the Dutchman down in the final 50 metres to take gold in an Olympic record 1min 44.71sec, with Phelps third. Thorpe could not contain his emotion at his victory as he tore off his cap, punched the air wildly and screamed at the top of his lungs. Thorpe also won three Olympic silvers and a bronze in his only two Games before retiring at the age of 24 in 2006. An ill-fated comeback attempt saw him fail to make the cut for London 2012.






Michael Johnson, the one-lap master

The American dominated the 200m and 400m sprints in the final decade of the 20th century, winning four gold medals in the Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) Games.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
His tally could have been five as he was part of the 4x400m US relay team that crossed the line first in Sydney but was stripped of the title eight years later, after Antonio Pettigrew admitted doping. Johnson, always a vehement voice against doping, returned his medal as he felt he had not won it legitimately. He was nevertheless the only man to win 400m gold twice (1996, 2000) and also won a 4x400m relay gold in 1992 and a 200m gold in Atlanta four years later when he smashed his own world record (19.66) by more than three-tenths of a second with a scarcely believable 19.32sec in the final -- the largest improvement in a 200m world record in history. Usain Bolt has since lowered the mark, but Johnson's 400 metres world record of 43.18sec set in Seville in 1999 still stands to this day.






Usain Bolt, lightning that struck twice

The fastest man the world has ever seen, the "Lightning Bolt" shot to worldwide fame in Beijing in 2008 as the first man to do

Photo: Reuters
the 100m-200m sprint double since American Carl Lewis in 1984, and then became the first in Olympic history to repeat the feat with his London triumphs. Not only that, in Beijing the lanky, laid-back Jamaican smashed world records in both sprint finals and he went on to lower the 100m and 200m marks a year later, to 9.58sec and 19.19sec respectively. He also anchored Jamaica's 4x100m sprint relay team to gold in both Games, also in world record times. With six golds already, Bolt is aiming at an unprecedented "treble-treble" in Rio which, if achieved, may never be matched. He has also won a record 11 world championships gold medals since 2009.






Nadia Comaneci, the perfect 10

Perfection is a rare commodity but 40 years ago in Montreal, Romanian gymnast Comaneci achieved it seven times, in the eyes of the judges, when she was just 14.

Photo: Getty Images
Belarussian Olga Korbut had paved the way for Comaneci's success four years earlier in Munich, when her spectacular feats on the beam and uneven bars won her three gold medals, ignited gymnastics' popularity and set off a fierce rivalry with the tiny Romanian. The result was Comaneci, then only 4ft 11in (1.50m) tall, scoring the first ever perfect 10.00 scores -- four times on the uneven bars, and three times on the beam, as she won gold in both events plus the all-round title. Another two gold medals were to follow at the Moscow Games in 1980. Fellow gymnasts detailed abuse and beatings at the hands of coach Bela Karolyi, and while under his care Comaneci was once rushed to hospital after reportedly drinking bleach. Comaneci competed until 1981, and fled Romania just before the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. She now lives in the United States, where her business interests include a gymnastics academy.






Greg Louganis, the greatest diver?

America's Louganis dominated his sport in the 1980s when he won two gold medals at Los Angeles in 1984 and defended both titles at Seoul in 1988, despite famously smashing his head on the springboard.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
Louganis may have finished his career with more Olympic titles if not for the USA boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980. The enduring image of Louganis is when he painfully hit the back of his head during a reverse two-and-a-half somersault in pike in the preliminary rounds at Seoul -- the stuff of nightmares for divers. But after stitches, he recovered his composure to reach the final and then win the title, cementing burnishing his golden-boy image. However, life had never been easy for Louganis, the adopted son of a Swedish-Samoan teenage couple who was bullied at school, abused by his business manager and found out he was HIV positive six months before the Seoul Games. He came out publicly as gay in an Oprah Winfrey interview in 1995, prompting criticism in some quarters about the bloody head-injury incident in Seoul.






Edwin Moses, the man no one could beat

Rarely has an athlete exerted such sustained dominance as American 400m hurdler Moses, who won an astonishing 122 consecutive races from 1977 to 1987 and picked up two Olympic gold medals,

Photo: Getty Images
in one of the great athletics careers. For nine years, nine months and nine days, nobody finished in front of Moses, who set four world records in the process. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, his first international event, 20-year-old Moses won the 400m hurdles by eight metres, the largest margin of victory in the event's history, also breaking the world record. Moses missed the 1980 Moscow Games because of the US boycott, but won a second gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and a bronze at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when he was 33. When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Moses once said: "Hopefully, as the guy nobody could beat." His final world record of 47.02sec was set in 1983 and was only broken by the current holder, Kevin Young, in 1992, when he ran 46.78 in the Barcelona Olympics final.






Daley Thompson, king of the decathletes

Thompson was a child at boarding school when his father was shot dead in an argument in the street, but he overcame the tragedy to become the most celebrated decathlete in history,

Photo: AP
winning two Olympic gold medals and setting four world records in his career. The Briton, whose fierce competitive drive and irreverent attitude divided opinion, won his first Olympic title at the 1980 Moscow Games, which were overshadowed by Cold War tensions and were boycotted by the United States and West Germany. But he won over the normally pro-Soviet Moscow crowd, who gave him a standing ovation at his victory ceremony. Four years later in Los Angeles, Thompson had to dig deep in a hard-fought battle with Germany's Jurgen Hingsen, the world record-holder, until strong performances in the discus, pole vault and javelin made him champion-elect before the final event, the 1,500m. Thompson could afford to finish 11 seconds below his personal best and still break Hingsen's decathlon world record, but instead he cantered down the final straight to finish a whisker too slow to set a new mark. At the press conference, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the message, "Is the world's 2nd greatest athlete gay?", a provocative reference to rumours about Carl Lewis. He also made jokes about fathering a child with Princess Anne, another incident which created negative headlines in his hour of triumph. Thompson's athletic achievements are not in doubt: between 1979 and 1987, he was undefeated in all competitions, and he is the only decathlete to hold the world, Olympic, Commonwealth and European titles at the same time. "All I ever wanted to be was the best. I don't enjoy fame," he told the Independent in 2008.






Carl Lewis, the heir to Owens

Lewis stole the show at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when he matched Jesse Owens' achievement of winning four gold medals in the 100m, the 200m, the long jump and the 4x100m relay, in front of his home fans.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
In 1988, Lewis gained a second gold medal in the 100m after Ben Johnson was disqualified for doping, and also defended his long jump title and picked up a silver in the 200m. And in Barcelona in 1992, the American was a winner again as he anchored the 4x100m relay team to victory and picked up a third long jump gold medal, stunning world record-holder Mike Powell in the final. Four years later, Lewis defended his long jump title for a fourth time, when as a 35-year-old underdog he summoned up one last golden leap to reach a career tally of nine Olympic titles. After these achievements, it was no surprise that he was named male athlete of the century by the IAAF in 1999, and sportsman of the century by the International Olympic Committee. But despite his successes, Lewis's aloof attitude rankled with rivals and spectators alike, puncturing his popularity. Worse was to come when in 2003, it was revealed that he failed three drugs tests for small amounts of stimulants at the US Olympic trials before the 1988 Seoul Games, where Canada's Johnson was vilified for doping. "The climate was different then," Lewis said later. "Over the years a lot of people will sit around and debate that (the drug) does something. There really is no pure evidence to show that it does something. It does nothing."






Laszlo Papp, Hungarian boxing great

Papp tangled with Hungary's Communist authorities as well as opponents in the ring in a career which made him the first boxer to win three Olympic gold medals.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
The fluid, hard-hitting southpaw, known for his devastating left hook, totted up an astonishing 301 amateur wins against just 12 losses, with 55 of his victories ending in first-round knock-outs. His Olympic career was equally as fearsome: in 13 bouts spread across London 1948, Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956, Papp lost only one round -- in the 1956 final, which he won 2-1 against America's Jose Torres. That third and final title came at a highly emotional time for Hungary, as it coincided with the brutal crushing of an uprising against the Soviet-backed regime. Budapest-born Papp turned professional at 31 in 1957 but had to train in Vienna to become the first professional boxer from the Soviet bloc. In 1965, he was denied a shot at reigning middleweight world champion Joey Giardello in the United States when the Hungarian Communist authorities revoked his passport, concerned about the sensitivities of a boxer from the Soviet bloc fighting for money in the focal point of the capitalist world. "This is my one big regret in life," Papp said later. He retired undefeated as a professional and as European middleweight champion and was later awarded an honorary world title by the World Boxing Council, who also named him the best amateur and professional fighter of all time.






Dawn Fraser, the Australian rebel

The Australian swimmer made her mark in the 100m freestyle, taking gold in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and then in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
In doing so, she became the first woman to defend an Olympic swimming title and the first Olympic swimmer of either sex to win the same event three times. Fraser also won gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay in 1956 and earned silver medals in four other events over the Games in which she competed. However, her career was also defined by clashes with Australia's swimming authorities. After the Rome Olympics, she was handed a two-year ban after a number of minor offences, including not wearing the team tracksuit to receive her medal. At Tokyo, she defied team orders by marching in the ceremony, wore an unofficial swimsuit while competing and finally she was caught stealing souvenir flags near the Imperial Palace -- crimes which earned her a whopping 10-year ban, prompting her retirement. Fraser, from a working-class suburb of Sydney, remains one of Australia's most outspoken sports heroes, and recently courted controversy when she told misbehaving tennis stars Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic "to go back to where their parents came from", comments for which she later apologised.






Larisa Latynina, Soviet medal machine

Ukrainian-born Latynina competed in the 1958 world gymnastics while four months pregnant -- and took home five gold medals. It was the sort of determination that was to bring

Photo: The Hindu Archives
her 18 Olympic medals, a record which stood for nearly half a century until it was broken in 2012 by American swimmer Michael Phelps. Latynina finished her Olympic career with nine gold medals, five silver and four bronze, becoming gymnastics' inaugural superstar. "She was our first legend," Bela Karolyi, the coach of Romania's Nadia Comaneci, said of Latynina. "When she stepped out on the floor, all eyes were on her. She demanded attention and respect." At her first Games in 1956, Latynina won the vault and floor exercises en route to a hard-fought all-round title, as well as gold in the team event. She defended her all-round title in 1960, and again took gold in the floor exercises and team event. At Tokyo in 1964, when she was 29, Latynina won her third straight floor and team titles. Despite her unprecedented medal haul, Latynina's achievements were later overshadowed in Olympic history by the exploits of Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut and Comaneci, but she came to public attention again as Phelps zeroed in on her record in London.






Mark Spitz, damp squib to record-breaker

The brash American boasted he would win six gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics but he ended up with two relay titles, plus an individual silver and bronze, in what he

Photo: Getty Images
called "the worst meet of my life". Perhaps it was the motivation he needed, because four years later in Munich, Spitz stunned the world by winning an unprecedented seven gold medals at the same Games -- winning every event he entered, and setting a world record each time. Spitz's seven-title haul remained unmatched until Michael Phelps swam to eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008. The mustachioed Spitz did the 100m and 200m double in both freestyle and the butterfly, together with three relay titles -- and promptly retired. The abrasive Spitz's success wasn't universally popular among his rival swimmers: "It could have happened to a nicer guy," remarked one. Lucrative endorsements and business deals were to follow, until Spitz made a shortlived comeback attempt aged 41, nearly two decades after Munich, in time for the 1992 Olympics. After Phelps broke his gold-medal record in Beijing, Spitz was unstinting in his praise. "He is the single greatest Olympic athlete of all time now... I always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel a tremendous load off my back."






Teofilo Stevenson, the Cuban Ali

Stevenson resisted the lure of professional boxing -- including a lucrative fight with Muhammad Ali -- to remain resolutely amateur throughout his career, earning the devotion of his fellow Cubans.

Photo: Reuters
"What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" he once said. Stevenson was crowned Olympic heavyweight champion three times in 1972, 1976 and 1980, one of only three fighters to win three Olympic gold medals, and the first after Hungary's Laszlo Papp 24 years earlier. In a 1988 Boxing Illustrated poll, the towering but graceful Stevenson, with a thundering right hand -- and a striking resemblance to Ali -- was selected as the greatest Olympic boxer of all time. In 1974, two years after his first Olympic victory, promoters Bob Arum and Don King both tried to lure the 22-year-old to fight the then fading Ali, a match that many observers believe the Cuban would have won. Instead Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in the famous Rumble in the Jungle. Stevenson only ever lost one round at the Olympics, in his third and last final against the Soviet Union's Piotr Zaev in 1980. He also won three world amateur titles and would have been a good bet for a fourth Olympic gold medal, but Fidel Castro's Cuba boycotted both the 1984 and 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles and Seoul. Stevenson, described by his friend Ali as "one of the great boxing champions", retired aged 36 to a modest home in Havana. He died in 2012, at the age of 60, after a heart attack.






Paavo Nurmi, the 'Flying Finn'

One of the Olympics' first superstars, Finland's Nurmi stole the show at Antwerp 1920, winning three gold medals in the 10000m, individual and team cross country, and silver in the 5000m,

Photo: Getty Images
in the space of just three days. But he outdid himself four years later in Paris, winning the 1500m and then the 5000m two hours later, before successfully defending his team and individual cross country titles and then taking gold in the 3000m team race, becoming the first athlete to win five gold medals at the same Olympics. But there was controversy when Finnish officials, fearing for his physical condition, refused to allow him to defend his 10000m title. The angry Nurmi responded, after returning to Finland, by setting a new world record in the event. At Amsterdam in 1928, Nurmi reclaimed his 10000m title and took silver in the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase. However this turned out to be Nurmi's last Olympics as by now his fame was such that he was invited to star at athletics meets worldwide, prompting the IAAF to designate him a professional -- ruling him out of the 1932 Games, and a shot at a 10th gold medal.






Johnny Weissmuller, from gold to the silver screen

Long before he swung on to the silver screen as 'Tarzan the Ape Man', America's Weissmuller found fame at the Olympics, where he dominated the swimming events at the Paris and Amsterdam Games in 1924 and 1928.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
At a time when only six men's gold medals were on offer, the son of German immigrants won the 100m and 400m freestyle, as well as the 4x200m freestyle relay, in Paris, before successfully defending the 100m and relay titles four years later -- a career haul of five Olympic titles. He also took water polo bronze in Paris, for good measure. Weissmuller didn't win as many gold medals as Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps, but he bears comparison owing to his huge margins of victory and the small number of swimming events contested at the time. His superiority owed much to his revolutionary use of the flutter kick and head-turning breathing -- innovations that remain to this day. After his Olympic career, Weissmuller made even more of a splash in Hollywood, where he shot 12 Tarzan films and became synonymous with the character, pioneering his famous jungle yell.






Jesse Owens, first track superstar

Owens exploded the Nazi-propagated myth of Aryan racial superiority when he won four track and field gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics under the nose of Adolf Hitler.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
The African-American was already a star when he arrived in Berlin, a year after he set five world records and equalled a sixth in the space of 45 minutes in Ann Arbor -- including a long jump mark of 8.13m that would stand for 25 years. He didn't disappoint in Berlin, winning gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump, and setting three world records along the way. Hitler was reported to have stormed out of the stadium after Owens, the grandson of slaves, won the 100m, although the "Buckeye Bullet" later said the Nazi leader waved to him in passing. But Owens was snubbed by his own president on his return to the United States when Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to greet him, a customary honour for returning champions. "When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus," Owens said later. "I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either." Owens, a pack-a-day smoker for much of his life, died of lung cancer in 1980. In testament to his enduring popularity among the German public, he has a street and a school named after him in Berlin.






Fanny Blankers-Koen, female athlete of the century

Blankers-Koen defied conventions about age, sex and motherhood, and blazed a pathway for women's sport when she swept to four track gold medals at the 1948 Olympics as a 30-year-old mother of two.

Photo: The Hindu Archives
After making her Games debut in 1936 -- where she approached Jesse Owens for an autograph, one of her most treasured possessions -- the Dutch marvel's Olympic career was put on hold by World War II. By the time the Olympics returned in London in 1948, and despite living for six years under German occupation near Amsterdam, Blankers-Koen held six world records. Nevertheless, many held doubts about the young mother's suitability to compete -- which were quickly erased when she took gold in the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay, topping the podium in every event she entered. "One newspaperman wrote that I was too old to run, that I should stay at home and take care of my children," she told the New York Times in 1982. "When I got to London, I pointed my finger at him and I said: 'I show you.'" In 1999, Blankers-Koen was named female athlete of the century by the IAAF, and she died five years later in 2004.






Emil Zatopek, unique distance treble

Zatopek spoke six languages and "never shut up", according to one miffed rival, and sometimes it seemed that he never stopped running either. The Czech distance great, known for

Photo: The Hindu Archives
his ungainly running style, claimed an enormous victory in the 10000m at the 1948 Olympics, lapping all but two competitors, despite racing for the first time over the distance only two months earlier. A few days later in the 5000m, an out-of-sorts Zatopek dropped 100m behind Belgian leader Gaston Reiff before stirringly fighting back to miss gold by a whisker, in what would have been one of the great recoveries of all time. Four years later at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, Zatopek successfully defended his 10000m crown, and then claimed a dramatic 5000m victory when he stormed past his rivals on the final bend. But his most remarkable victory was in the marathon, which he had never run before but won so easily that he chatted with photographers along the route and afterwards declared the event "very boring". Zatopek, the only man to win the 5000m, 10000m and marathon at the same Olympics, later fell out of favour with Czech authorities. He was assigned to collect rubbish in Prague and worked for seven years in a uranium mine.

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