10 Most Famous Olympic Athletes

Several well-known Americans top our list of 10 most famous Olympic athletes. Through the years, the Olympic Games have grown to reflect nearly every nation in the world. But America is still a favorite for Olympic hopes and dreams.

Team USA represents some of the best athletes in the world. Many of them are famous not only for their athleticism, but also for the contributions the make in their professional, post-Olympics lives.

  1. Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou Retton is probably the most famous Olympic athlete, and certainly a fan favorite. The American gymnast is the first woman outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic all-around title. She won five medals in the 1984 summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California–one gold, two silver, and two bronze.
  2. Mark Spitz. Mark Spitz is a retired American swimmer and Olympic icon. He won seven gold medals at the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. His long-standing record held for more than 35 years, until American Michael Phelps broke the record with eight gold medals in 2008. During his years of swimming, Spitz set more than thirty world records.
  3. Bruce Jenner. Bruce Jenner is a former track and field athlete. He is best known for winning a gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. Following his Olympic success, Jenner became a celebrity actor featured in several movies and television series. He was also a successful race car driver in the 1980s.
  4. Wilma Rudolph. Wilma Rudolph, an American track and field star, was considered “the fastest woman in the world” in the 1960s. She competed in the 1956 summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, winning a bronze medal. She became an international star in 1960, when she won three gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.
  5. Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Babe Didrikson Zaharias was an American athlete in the 1930s. She was known as a versatile female competitor. She won two gold and one silver medal in track and field events in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California. She was also skilled at basketball, softball, diving, roller-skating, and bowling. By the late 1940s, Zaharias had become America’s first female golf celebrity.
  6. Carl Lewis. Carl Lewis is a former American track and field star. He impressed America and the world with ten Olympic medals, including nine gold. Lewis won his first four Olympic events in the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, California. The 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, gave him three medals, including his lone silver medal. In 1992, he won two more gold medals in Barcelona, Spain. He won his last Olympic event in 1996, in Atlanta, Georgia.
  7. Dorothy Hamill. Dorothy Hamill is a famous American figure skater. She won the 1976 Olympic figure skating competition at Innsbruck, Austria, and quickly became “America’s Sweetheart.“ Following the Olympics, Hamill turned professional as an Ice Capades headliner from 1977 to 1984.
  8. Scott Hamilton. Scott Hamilton is another famous figure skater and Olympic gold medalist. He won the gold medal in the 1984 men’s figure skating competition in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina). He also won many national and world championships. After turning professional, Hamilton starred in several ice shows.
  9. Dan Jansen. Dan Jansen is a former speed skater best known for the gold-medal win in his final Olympic race after several years of family tragedy and heartbreak. He won his speed-skating event in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Today, Jansen is a speed-skating commentator for the NBC television network.
  10. Eric Heiden. Eric Heiden is a former long-track speed skater and road cyclist. He won five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Heiden is the only athlete in speed-skating history to win all five events in a single Olympic Games, and the only person to win gold in all five events.
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