All-Time Top Medalists in the Athletics World Championships – Men

The World Championships in Athletics are a huge celebration for track & field fans. I’ve been watching them regularly since Athens 1997, when my dad first encouraged me to join him. I was 10 years old, and for some reason, the athletes I remember best from that championship are  Moses Kiptanui, Michael Johnson, Wilson Kipketer and Noureddine Morceli, despite the fact that Kiptanui didn’t win gold and Morceli didn’t win any medal at all. Well, mind, mysterious ways and all that, you know.

Anyway, since then I’ve committed myself to watching it every two years. And we’re very lucky that the championships are being held every two years, because the first three were held every 4 years – 1983, 1987, 1991. And why didn’t they think of starting this thing earlier?!

Many heroes we’ve seen in the championships. After Berlin 2009 I took it upon myself to map every single medal winner, male or female, in the history of the championships. I used the IAAF Statistics Handbook for that, whose most recent version is always available at the official website of the championships. I used it to make an excel file of all the medalists ever, up until Osaka 2007, including. And then I updated it with the results from Berlin. Since then I keep updating it every two years. The IAAF handbook always has information about all the championships that were prior to the current one, and so data about all the medalists up until Moscow 2013, including – is not available at the moment. Well, unless you want to do the same thing I did. It did take a whole lot of hours to check and double-check all the data, because I was paranoid that some of it might be wrong and because there were several updates in recent years, which caused changes in the medals from past championships… more on that later.

The file looks like this:

Yes, I am crazy for making it.

Yes, I am crazy for making it.

I have separate files for the men and the women. The numbers stand for the type of medal the athlete received – 1 for gold, 2 for silver, 3 for bronze. The last column represents the total number of medals the athlete has of each color. Anyway, what’s interesting to look at is the number of medals the athletes won overall, in order to see who are the gold medals leaders and who are the leaders in medals regardless of color. In swimming it is also interesting to look at the number of medals won at a single World Championships, since swimmers can usually compete in a number of disciplines. Track and Field athletes, on the other hand, usually compete in a single event, except for the sprinters and the long-distance runners, who can compete in 2 or 3 (or 4, in extremely rare cases) events. This is why I don’t keep tabs on most medals and most gold medals won at a single championship – it’s just not fair to non-sprinters… I do have them for the swimming championships, and I will have a couple of posts on it in the future.

Therefore, after completing the mapping of every medal won in the course of the World Championships, I compiled a list of the overall leaders. Now, I know that those lists are probably available on some websites, but as I like to collect sports related stats on my own, I like to use my own tables. Besides, the updated IAAF Handbook, which encompasses the results of Moscow 2013, will be available only in the summer of 2015, when the next World Championships will be held in Beijing! Do you really want to wait until summer 2015?! I don’t! Who’s with me?

So anyway, without Freddy Adu, here are the lists of the athletes who won the most medals, and the most gold medals – in the history of the Athletics World Championships. The criteria to be included in the tables is 4 medals and 3 gold medals, and they are the same for both sexes:

Most Medals – Men (4+) Most Gold Medals – Men (3+)
Athlete # of Medals Athlete # of Medals
Carl Lewis 10 Carl Lewis 8
Usain Bolt 10 Michael Johnson 8
LaShawn Merritt 9 Usain Bolt 8
Michael Johnson 8 LaShawn Merritt 7
Haile Gebrselassie 7 Sergey Bubka 6
Bernard Lagat 6 Jeremy Wariner 5
Butch Reynolds 6 Kenenisa Bekele 5
Greg Haughton 6 Lars Riedel 5
Hicham El Guerrouj 6 Maurice Greene 5
Jeremy Wariner 6 Allen Johnson 4
Kenenisa Bekele 6 Bershawn Jackson 4
Lars Riedel 6 Calvin Smith 4
Sergey Bubka 6 Dwight Phillips 4
Ezekiel Kemboi 6 Haile Gebrselassie 4
Allen Johnson 5 Hicham El Guerrouj 4
Avard Moncur 5 Ivan Pedroso 4
Bershawn Jackson 5 Kerron Clement 4
Bruny Surin 5 Angelo Taylor 3
Calvin Smith 5 Butch Reynolds 3
Colin Jackson 5 Dan O’Brien 3
Danny McFarlane 5 Dennis Mitchell 3
Davian Clarke 5 Donovan Bailey 3
Dennis Mitchell 5 Greg Foster 3
Dwight Phillips 5 Ivan Tikhon 3
Jan Zelezny 5 Jan Zelezny 3
John Regis 5 Jefferson Perez 3
Jonathan Edwards 5 John Godina 3
Kim Collins 5 Moses Kiptanui 3
Maksim Tarasov 5 Noureddine Morceli 3
Marlon Devonish 5 Robert Korzeniowski 3
Maurice Greene 5 Tomas Dvorak 3
Tony Jarrett 5 Tyson Gay 3
Gerd Kanter 5 Werner Gunthor 3
Adam Nelson 4 Wilson Kipketer 3
Andreas Thorkildsen 4 Ezekiel Kemboi 3
Angelo Taylor 4 Mo Farah 3
Asafa Powell 4 Robert Harting 3
Ato Boldon 4
Chris Brown 4
Darrel Brown 4
Donovan Bailey 4
Frankie Fredericks 4
Ivan Pedroso 4
Javier Sotomayor 4
Jefferson Perez 4
Jesus Angel Garcia 4
Jurgen Schult 4
Kerron Clement 4
Kriss Akabusi 4
Linford Christie 4
Liu Xiang 4
Michael Blackwood 4
Mike Conley 4
Moses Kiptanui 4
Robert Korzeniowski 4
Roger Black 4
Sileshi Sihen 4
Stephane Diagana 4
Tyson Gay 4
Virgilijus Alekna 4
Wallace Spearmon 4
Yaroslav Rybakov 4
Yuriy Borzakovskiy 4
Justin Gatlin 4
Mo Farah 4
Nesta Carter 4
Robert Harting 4

And now, as usual, some cool facts about these tables.

The most obvious fact one can see is that Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt are the most successful male track & fielders (yes, this should totally be a word as well) ever at the championships, and that they both have 8 gold medals and 10 medals overall. However, what you can’t see is that Usain wins the tie-breaker. Apart from his 8 gold medals, he also has two silver medals (from Osaka 2007, before he became THE Usain Bolt), while Lewis has one silver and one bronze… So, all hail king Usain! And keep in mind that he’s 28 years old, and that he plans on competing in another couple of World Championships… Now, obviously Lewis didn’t have the privilege of competing every two years in the 80’s, when he was at his peak form, but hey – don’t hate the player, hate the game. It’s not Usain’s fault.

Michael Johnson is the third male athlete who shares the record for most ever gold medals. Now, Johnson is one of my all-time favorite athletes (and he will be inducted into the blog’s Hall of Fame when I’ll start it), and he actually had an additional, 9th gold medal, which would have given him the lead over Usain and Lewis. However, the US team which won the gold medal n the 4*400m at Seville 1999 was DQ’d nearly a decade later, due to Antonio Pettigrew admitting to the use of illegal performance enhancing substances. Damn you, Antonio! It’s not Michael’s fault, but still – now he only has 8 gold medals (which is still fucking amazing, especially since ALL his medals are gold) and not 9.

Check out LaShawn Merritt! The dude is 3rd in total medals and 4th in gold medals! AND he’s still young enough to rack up a couple more at least. If you had to guess which track & fielder is occupying these positions, and that the only men ahead of him are Lewis, Usain and MJ, would you guess it’s LaShawn?! If you say you do you’re a dirty liar. It’s really utterly amazing! I still remember him from Osaka 2007, when he came second in the 400m to the amazing Jeremy Wariner. Wariner (5 gold medals and 6 overall, a very good haul!) was destined to be THE legendary runner of the two, the one who could threaten Johnson’s WR… I mean, he ran an un-fucking-believable 43.45 in Osaka! But then Merritt took the lead in the event, and 7 years later – bam, he’s at the very top of our table!

In 5th place in the gold medals table we meet the first athlete who didn’t benefit from the sprinters’ possibilities to win multiple medals at a single championship: The great Sergey Bubka. The greatest pole vaulter of all time has 6 gold medals, which he won over the course of 6 different championships, starting from the very first one, 1983, and finishing  in 1997. Such unprecedented dominance is really mind-numbing. Lars Riedel came close, with 5 wins in the discus, but I believe that there is only one athlete that can match Bubka’s record, and we will meet her in the next post.

Hey, check out Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie! The Emperor and his heir have nearly identical records – Haile has 4 gold medals and 7 medals overall, while Bekele has 5 gold medals and 6 medals overall. I was always torn between these two, and I can’t decide even with a gun pointed to my head which one should come first in the greatest track and field athletes ever rankings. Gebrselassie showed greater diversity, starting from a great result in the 1,500 indoors and ending with a former WR in the marathon, setting numerous WR’s in the process. Bekele extended his range to the marathon this year, and with a very good result too (2:05:04, still worse than Haile’s PB), but he also achieved things Haile never did, like the Olympic double – 5,000+10,000. Anyway, let’s leave this conundrum for later.

Anyway, what about some potential changes in the tables? Who can make it big time and climb to the top? Well, less than a year from now Usain will probably be the undisputed leader in both categories. The only scenario in which this doesn’t happen includes a zombie apocalypse and an alien invasion. Both at the same time.

Potentially, Usain can end his career with 6 more golds. It’s a reasonable scenario, but who knows… 3 years from now he will be 31, and that is a bit of a tricky age already… When Usain is in his element, not even the four riders of the apocalypse can stop him. And it will be fitting enough – the greatest track and field athlete ever is also the leader in the number of medals won at the World Championships…

LaShawn Merritt can climb up as well, certainly in the total medals standings. For the last two years, the 400m has been a duel between him and Kirani James, and while I believe that Kirani has the greater potential, right now they are really at the same level. LaShawn can most certainly add a couple of golds in the relay. Nothing can stop the US team there. My bet is that he’ll be second to Bolt after next year’s championships.

The long distances can also produce multiple medals, like we’ve seen with Haile and Kenenisa. However, while Mo Farah is truly great and has a handful of medals already (3 gold, 4 overall), he’s also 32 years old and with his transition to the marathon… I don’t think he can match Bekele’s record.

The other disciplines obviously suffer from the limited number of medals one can win at a single championship. Maybe we should make a separate table for them… Anyway, the only man that I think is capable of catching up a bit with Bubka and Riedel is Robert Harting. The amazing German already won 3 worlds in a row (+ a silver from 2007), and he seems to have a huge psychological advantage over all the other discus throwers, including Piotr Malachowski, whose PB is actually better than Harting’s. I think Robert can win a couple more gold medals, which will be an amazing achievement.

Anyway, so that’s it for the men. Next time – the women!

Usain is showing how many more gold medals he plans on winning at the World Championships.

Usain is showing us how many more gold medals he plans on winning at the World Championships.

3 thoughts on “All-Time Top Medalists in the Athletics World Championships – Men

  1. wow gold

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he just bought me lunch because I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!



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