Top Performers at the Summer Olympics: Athletes and Nations

Updated: 59

We've crunched some numbers to find the most dominant countries and individuals at the Olympics and who could be the stand-out names in 2024

Top Performers at the Summer Olympics: Athletes and Nations
Steve Madgwick Editor-In-Chief

Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

The 2024 Olympics in Paris are just months away, with the French capital ready to light the Olympic torch and get the games underway. The Olympics are the pinnacle of athleticism and skill, with thousands of athletes worldwide competing to be the best. They are also almost the only time each year when online betting sites see action based around Athletics and other niche sports.

But who are the most successful Olympic athletes and nations in recent years? By studying the records of the 21st-century Olympics, we have discovered which nations have performed best and the individuals who have captured the hearts and minds of the public, wowing us with their prowess and achieving incredible things. 

The Most Successful Nations

Which nations have won the most medals at 21st century Summer Olympic Games?

olbg 21st century olympics - most successful

1. United States, 637 total Olympic medals since 2000 

The United States is the most successful nation in modern Olympic history, having won over 600 medals since the turn of the century, an average of around 106 per Olympic games. 

The USA has been particularly successful at tentpole sports such as track and field athletics and swimming, bringing extra attention to their success. Perhaps the USA’s success should not be surprising as their team has one of the most extensive levels of funding, and there have been almost 3,500 US Olympians since 2000, which is over 1,000 more than the next biggest nation. 

2. China, 467 total Olympic medals since 2000 

Although they have almost 200 medals fewer than the USA, China is the second most successful nation at the Olympics in the 21st century. China was particularly successful at its home Olympics in Beijing in 2008. During these games, China topped the medal table with 100 medals, of which nearly half were gold. China has been very successful in technical sports requiring precision and athleticism, with the nation proving dominant in diving, table tennis, and gymnastics. 

3. Russia, 432 total Olympic medals since 2000 

Since 2000, Russian athletes (whether competing under the national flag or as the Russian Olympic Committee in 2020) have been the third most successful of any nation, achieving 432 total medals across two decades. 

The Russian Olympic team has often shown its versatility, succeeding in many different sports. Famous Russian athletes include two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, who was notable for sleeping in the stadium between her attempts at the vault. 

4. United Kingdom, 304 total Olympic medals since 2000

The United Kingdom has the fourth-highest Olympic medals, earning just over 300 since 2000. Of the major nations, Britain is one of the most improved, having only finished tenth in the medal table at Sydney 2000 (28 medals) and Athens 2004 (30 medals) before upgrading to fourth, third, and then second-place finishes at the following three events. 

The pinnacle of the British Olympic success was the London Olympics in 2012, where the host nation dominated sports such as cycling while taking major wins in high-profile athletics events. 

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5. Germany, 266 total Olympic medals since 2000

German athletes have been consistently successful across Olympic competitions in the 21st century, often finishing in the top ten of the medal table and averaging around 44 medals per Olympics. German athletes are usually successful at events that require strength and power, such as throwing events, rowing, and canoeing. 

Which nations have won the most medals per athlete?

olbg 21st century olympics - most medals per athlete

1. Ethiopia

  •  Total Olympians - 185
  • Total Olympic medal wins - 42
  • Percentage of Olympians who won medals - 22.7%

Ethiopia is a country that has holistically punched above its weight when it comes to sports, particularly athletics, as every single Ethiopian Olympic medal winner has been in athletics. 

Moreover, every single medal won by an Ethiopian in Olympic history is in long or middle-distance running. Since 2000, they have won the men’s 10,000-metre race in four of the six Olympics that have taken place and have the same record in the women’s race. Famous 21st-century Ethiopian long-distance runners include Tirunesh Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele, and Haile Gebrselassie. 

 
2. Jamaica

  • Total Olympians - 300
  • Total Olympic medal wins - 58
  • Percentage of Olympians who won medals - 19.33%

Whilst Ethiopians specialise in long-distance running events, Jamaicans tend to be the opposite and are the kings and queens of sprinting. Out of the 58 medal wins since 2000, only one has been achieved in track sprinting or hurdling, except Chelsea Hammond’s bronze in the 2008 women’s long jump competition.

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history and one of the most iconic faces in Olympic history. The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has eight gold medals and broke the world record in an iconic first 100m win in 2008.

3. China

  • Total Olympians - 2,431
  • Total Olympic medal wins - 467
  • Percentage of Olympians who won medals - 19.21%

As we have already discussed, China is the second most successful nation in the 21st century Olympics, and they also have a very high conversion rate, with over 19% of all their athletes winning medals. 

Although they have won almost 500 Olympic medals since 2000, perhaps one of the most spectacular was Liu Xiang’s incredible 110m hurdles win in 2004, during which he set an Olympic record time and captured the eyes of the world. 

Which nations have improved the most at the Olympics?

olbg 21st century olympics - improved the most

1. India

  • 2000 total medals - 1
  • 2020 total medals - 7
  • Increase - 600%

In 2000, Karnam Malleswari lifted her way to a bronze medal in weightlifting, becoming the first female Indian Olympic medallist ever. However, she was the only one of her compatriots to win anything that year, surprising in a country with a population of around a billion. 

Jumping forward 20 years, India entered 124 athletes (their most ever), and seven of them brought home medals, with Neeraj Chopra winning the nation’s first-ever track and field event with the javelin. 

2. Colombia

  • 2000 total medals - 1
  • 2020 total medals - 4
  • Increase - 400%

Another country that only won one medal in the year 2000 was Colombia. The South American nation also had their only medalist in weightlifting, with Maria Isabel Urrutia winning gold in the 75kg category. At Tokyo 2020, they won four medals. Although this is 400% more medals than in 2000, Colombia won 8 in 2016, meaning they have recently regressed. 

3. New Zealand

  • 2000 total medals - 4
  • 2020 total medals - 20
  • Increase - 400%

Despite the Olympics being hosted by their Oceanic neighbour Australia, the Kiwis only managed four medals from over 150 athletes in 2000. In contrast, they had 20 medal winners in 2020, a success built slowly as they had more medalists in each Olympics in the 21st century. 

Although New Zealand is mainly known for its rugby, athletes also excel at watersports, with lots of medals in sailing and rowing. 

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Which nations have the most gold medal wins?

olbg 21st century olympics - most gold medals

1. United States, 239 Olympic gold medals since 2000

The United States has the most gold medals at all of the 21st century Olympic Games, but its lead isn’t as big as it is when it comes to overall medals. 

There have been many victorious American Olympians, but Michael Phelps nearly accounts for 10% of all their gold medals, with the superstar swimmer winning 23 across five Olympics. American Olympic stars include the iconic Williams sisters, who dominated women's tennis for a decade or more, and sprinters Allyson Felix, Michael Johnson, and Justin Gatlin. 

2. China, 210 Olympic gold medals since 2000

China has fewer than 30 gold medals than America despite entering around 1,000 fewer athletes across the six 21st century Olympic Games. China is the leading country in table tennis (the nation’s national sport) and badminton, but most of their gold medals have been in diving. Four Chinese Olympians have won five gold medals since 2000. These are gymnast Zou Kai, table tennis player Ma Long, and divers Wu Munxua and Chen Ruolin. 

3. Russia, 141 Olympic gold medals since 2000

Russia is the third most successful nation in terms of gold medals at the Olympics in the 21st century. Although the country has sometimes been tarred by controversy, Russian athletes have performed well at every Olympic games. One sport that Russia has dominated is synchronised swimming, Svetlana Romashina has won seven gold medals in the sport and is the most decorated synchronised swimmer of all time. 

Which nations have the highest percentage of gold medals?

olbg 21st century olympics - highest percentage of gold

Bermuda

  • Total 21st century medal wins - 1
  • Total 21st century gold medal wins - 1
  • Percentage of medal wins that are gold - 100%

Bermuda is a tiny British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean off America's east coast. It is most famous for its mythical triangle and is not known for its sporting prowess. 

However, when Flora Duffy won the gold medal in the triathlon in 2020, it became the smallest country in the world ever to win a gold medal, and as it was their only medal in the 21st century, 100% of their total medals are coloured gold. Although Duffy’s parents are from Barrow and Burnley, respectively, she chose to represent the nation of her birth rather than the UK, a massive decision for Bermudan sport. 

Mozambique

  • Total 21st century medal wins - 1
  • Total 21st century gold medal wins - 1
  • Percentage of medal wins that are gold - 100%

Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world and often has little impact on the world stage. This all changed on the night of Monday, the 25th of September 2000, when the eyes of the world were focused on Maria Mutola crossing the line as the 800m Olympic champion at her fourth attempt. This remains Mozambique's only Olympic gold medal and their only medal of any colour since 2000. 


Panama

  • Total 21st century medal wins - 1
  • Total 21st century gold medal wins - 1
  • Percentage of medal wins that are gold - 100%

Before 2008, the tiny nation of Panama had only won two Olympic medals in history when Lloyd La Beach won two springing bronzes sixty years earlier. This all changed in Beijing when Irving Saladino won the long jump gold medal with a leap of 8.34 meters, and this remains their only Olympic medal since 2000. 

Which nations have dominated the most sports?

olbg 21st century olympics - dominated most sports

United States, dominant nation in 8.5 Olympic sports

The United States has won the most Olympic medals since 2000, and therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is the dominant force in most Olympic sports. They have won the most events in seven sports and share the most wins in three more. The most significant achievement for America is its domination of athletics (the Olympics flagship event). The United States has won almost 20% of all athletics events in the 21st century. 

China, dominant nation in 6 Olympic sports

Chinese Olympians have dominated six sports in the 21st century: Badminton, Diving, Shooting and Weightlifting. The other two are perhaps the most interesting sports that China dominate for different reasons - Table Tennis is impressive due to China’s near total domination in their national sport, and Gymnastics is perhaps the sport (that they dominate) which is most competitive as they won over 20% of 108 total events.  

United Kingdom, dominant nation in 4 Olympic sports

The United Kingdom dominates the third-highest number of Olympic sports, as British athletes have won the most events in four. Two events they have taken charge of are water sports, with Ben Ainslee, Katherine Grainger and Steve Redgrave helping them dominate with the sail and the oar, as well as cycling, especially since Beijing 2008. British riders have been the dominant force in the velodrome and performed well outside it too. 

Which nations are most dominant in a single sport?

olbg 21st century olympics - most dominant in a single sport

China has won 92% of all events in Table Tennis

As previously mentioned, China has almost wholly dominated table tennis, having won 23 of 25 events in the sport since 2000. They most recently lost to the host nation Japan in the mixed doubles final of 2020 and will be looking to reassert their dominance in Paris. Ma Long is the most successful Olympic Table Tennis player of all time with five golds, and his compatriot Wang Nan has won four to be the most successful female.  

The United States has won 85.71% of all events in Basketball

When most people think of basketball, they think of the NBA or College basketball competitions in the United States. It is, therefore, unsurprising that America has dominated the basketball competitions in recent Olympics. Out of 14 events, 12 have been won by American teams, including Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. 

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China has won 80.85% of all events in Diving

Another sport in which China has been incredibly successful during the 21st century Olympics is diving. Of 47 total events, Chinese divers have won 38, and no other nation has won more than three. 

The Most Successful Olympians

Who are the most successful 21st century Olympians?

olbg 21st century olympics - most successful olympian Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps, overall Olympian score of 9.56/10

Unsurprisingly, the most successful 21st-century Olympian is Michael Phelps. Competing between 2000 and 2016, he won an incredible 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which were gold. Throughout his career, he set 29 individual world records as he dominated the world of swimming, peaking in 2008 when he won eight gold medals in Beijing. He attended his first Olympics at just fifteen and ended it sixteen years later as the American flag bearer. 

Ryan Lochte, overall Olympian score of 9.15/10

Ryan Lochte is the second most decorated male Olympic swimmer of all time. He has 12 overall medals, half of which are gold and seven of which are individual achievements. 

Unlike Phelps, who is seen as an Olympic great, Lochte’s career ended abruptly in a scandal away from the pool, which has tarnished his achievements in the eyes of many. Despite this, he is undoubtedly one of the most successful athletes of his generation and deserves his place amongst the pantheon of 21st-century Olympic athletes.

Emma McKeon, overall Olympian score of 8.72/10

One of the more recent Olympic greats is Emma McKeon, the Australian swimmer who has won eleven medals in just two Olympic Games and is already the most decorated Aussie Olympian ever. Despite battling injury in recent years, McKeon will be hoping to refind her form and qualify for the 2024 games, during which she could become even more of a successful Olympian. 

Who are the most influential Olympians?

Football may not be at its most prominent at the Olympic Games, but it has been an integral part of competition ever since the modern Olympics were introduced. This perhaps makes it no surprise that superstars from the world’s most famous sport feature as the most influential Olympians. 

olbg 21st century olympics - most influential olympians Neymar

Neymar, influential Olympian score of 9.98/10

Neymar is the most influential Olympian among fans. The superstar Brazilian footballer has won almost everything there is to win in club football and has been a talisman for Brazil throughout the 2010s with 128 caps and 79 goals. At the 2012 Olympics, Neymar and his Brazilian teammates won the silver medal, which was a disappointing end for the team that dominated the tournament.

Serena Williams, influential Olympian score of 9.16/10

Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest sports stars of all time, being a dominant force in tennis for three decades. Outside of the Olympics, she won over 20 Grand Slam titles in the sport and earned almost $100 million in prize money alone. Serena and her sister Venus won three golds in ladies’ doubles at the Olympics, and she won the individual gold in 2012 at her playground of Wimbledon, becoming the only tennis player in history to complete a golden slam in singles and doubles. 

Ronaldinho, influential Olympian score of 9.14/10

Another icon of Brazilian football is Ronaldinho, the ex-Barcelona, AC Milan, and PSG superstar who won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, two years after a disappointing tilt at Olympic gold in Sydney. However, in 2008, he was the captain and talisman of the team, which eventually won a bronze medal. During his time in Brazil’s Olympic u23 team, Ronaldinho scored fifteen goals in nineteen games. 

Which exciting Olympians can we hope to see at Paris 2024?

Despite the Paris Olympics being just a few months away in August 2024, the vast majority of athletes have yet to confirm their place at the games. This is because form and fitness can change very quickly for top athletes, and Olympic committees in every country want to give their hopefuls as much opportunity as possible to qualify for the team. As a result, many Olympic trials take place just a few months or even weeks before the official start of the games. 

However, some top athletes have already been confirmed for the games. As well as some others who are almost certainly going to be competing in Paris, here are just some of those:

Male

Antoine Dupont 

France is the host nation of the 2024 Summer Olympics, and as a result, they will want to put on a show for the rest of the world both with their hosting and their performances. France has not finished in the top five of the medal table since 1948 and will be looking to the likes of Antoine Dupont to change this. Dupont is arguably the best Rugby Union player in the world right now, but the scrum-half turned down the chance to lead his country at this year's six nations to instead focus on getting into shape to lead France in the Rugby 7s tournament at the Olympics.

Caeleb Dressel

Caeleb Dressel has been the best short-distance swimmer in the world in recent years as he attempts to step out of the large shadow cast by the great Michael Phelps. Just like Phelps, Dressel specialises in Butterfly and at the 2020 games in Tokyo, he won three individual gold medals, as well as two in the relay. The 27-year-old will be aiming to add to this impressive tally at the 2024 games. 

Eliud Kipchoge

Despite being almost 40 years old Kenyan superstar Eliud Kipchoge is an athlete on top of his game and one of the stars of the sport coming into the 2024 games. Coming to Paris off the back of victories in the Marathon in the past two Olympics, Kipchoge will be looking to make it a hattrick on the streets of the French capital. Sadly, there will be no showdown between Kipchoge and his biggest rival following the tragic passing of world record holder Kelvin Kiptum in early 2024, of which Kipchoge voiced his sadness despite their great rivalry. 

Kylian Mbappe

Earlier this year France football manager Didier Deschamps said that footballing superstar Kylian Mbappe could line up for the France team at the Olympics. Although Mbappe has a busy summer ahead with an all-but-confirmed move to Real Madrid, the fantastic forward reportedly wants to represent his country and add to his legacy in a massive summer for his country. 

Tom Daley

Tom Daley has been one of the superstars of the British Olympic Team since 2008, despite the fact he will only be 30 when the Paris Olympics take place. Following his retirement after the last Olympics, Daley is back for one last dance in Paris where he will attempt to add to his single gold medal. In March 2024, Daley and his dive partner Noah Williams claimed silver at the World Aquatics Championship, which makes it very likely that he will be at the Olympics. 

Female

Eilish McColgan

Despite spending the last year out injured, Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic hopeful Eilish McColgan is confident she will make it to Paris to compete in the 10,000 and 5,000m events. The 33-year-old from Dundee in Scotland is hopeful that her Olympic misfortune will finally end in Paris as despite being a Commonwealth and European champion, she is yet to win an Olympic medal. As the daughter of an Olympic silver medalist Liz McColgan, Eilish will be looking to go one better than her mum in Paris. 

Katie Ledecky

At just twenty-seven years old, Katie Ledecky has already competed at three Olympic Games and will be looking to add to her seven Gold Medals in the pool at the Paris Games. Twelve years ago, a teenage Ledecky stunned the world by winning the 800m freestyle event at London 2012 and since then she has gone on to become a superstar in the sport of swimming. 

Simone Biles

Perhaps the most famous and influential Gymnast in history, Simone Biles is back for a third attempt at Olympic glory. After a disappointing 2020 Olympics, where Biles openly suffered from the pressure of being a star attraction and withdrew from the competition, citing mental health issues. Despite this low moment, Biles has bounced back, and the superstar athlete will be looking to prove the doubters wrong in Paris after a strong showing at the 2023 World Championships. 

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce

Paris 2024 will be the last time one of the all-time great Olympians will grace a running track, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce has announced the coming Olympics will be her last. Known for her blistering speed and distinctive style, Fraser Pryce is a two-time Olympic 100m champion and won silver as recently as 2020. Could the great sprinter roll back the years and go one better in 2024? In just a few months we will find out.  

Yulimar Rojas

Rojas is known as ‘la reina del triple salto’ in her native tongue, which translates to ‘queen of the triple jump’ in English. It is hard to argue with this nickname. Rojas is the world record holder as well as the current reigning and defending Olympic champion, who will be looking to go back-to-back in Paris. A story of perseverance and talent, Rojas had a deprived upbringing in Venezuela which inspired her to follow her dream despite a lack of resources and has gone on to become an Olympic champion as well as an athletic inspiration and LGBT+ activist in her home country. 

Methodology

The list of medal-winning countries in every event at the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 Olympics was taken from olympics.com.


We also sourced the number of athletes entered by each country from the same source.


We calculated the percentage of athletes entered compared to the number of medals won to find the average rate of Olympians who won a medal. (Although multiple medals were won by the same athlete, this couldn’t be accounted for in the calculation).


We also compared the total number of medals won at the 2000 Olympics to the total in 2020 to discover the most improved nations in that period. 


To find the most influential athletes, we picked out a list of over 350 medal winners from the Olympics (for team sports we only picked a maximum of the five most well-known players). 


We used Google Keyword Planner to discover the total number of Google searches for each athlete in the past year. We then kept the top hundred most searched for further research.


We used the athletes' pages on Instagram, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter) to discover the number of followers they had on each platform.


We used Google News search to discover the number of articles about each athlete in the news.


Using these five factors, we used a percentrank formula to create an influential score out of ten for each athlete.


To discover the most successful athletes, we created a list of 150 who had had the best success in the 21st-century Olympics.


We collected the total number of medals they won and the total number of bronze, silver, and gold.


We calculated the average number of medals they won per Olympic games they participated in.


Using a weighted index calculation, we created a score out of ten based on the number of medals and the quality of medals to rank the athletes. 

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