5 Greatest Winter Olympians of All Time

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The 2022 Winter Olympics are already in full swing and we take a look at the 5 most decorated athletes of all time

Ireen Wust

The 2022 Winter Olympics are in full swing, with over 2,000 athletes competing for 91 nations as they attempt to seal their spot in the history books.

The maiden Winter Olympics was staged in Chamonix, France, in 1924 when just 258 athletes battled it out for medals across six sports.

There have been many changes over the intervening years ahead of China being awarded the right to host the Winter Games for the first time in 2022.

The number of sports remains almost the same as the first Games, with seven being staged in China. However, the number of athletes has grown massively, with 2,871 involved.

Norway has emerged as the most successful nation in eight of the 23 editions, collecting 368 medals – 132 gold, 125 silver and 111 bronze.

It appears that they could be ending this year’s Games as the biggest winners too, having picked up 28 medals at the time of writing – 13 gold, seven silver and eight bronze.

We’ve taken a look back at the greatest athletes to have competed at the Winter Olympics.

5) Raisa Smetanina – Soviet Union/Unified Team

Raisa Smetanina made her Winter Olympics debut in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1973 at the age of 23.

The Cross Country Skier picked up three medals, which tied her with Germany’s Rosi Mittermaier for the most successful athlete of the Games that year, winning gold in the 10km and 4x5km relay, and she then claimed silver in the 5km discipline.

She returned four years later to add a further gold to her tally in the 5km event while also picking up silver in the relay.

Smetanina collected four more medals over the following two events in 1984 and 1988, taking home three silver and one bronze.

At her final Games in 1992, Smetanina, who was 39, earned one last medal as she helped her nation to gold in the relay event.

That final gold medal moved her to 10 overall and saw her become the first woman in history to reach that tally, while also becoming the oldest woman to win Winter Olympic gold.

4) Bjorn Daehlie – Norway

As mentioned earlier, Norway has enjoyed a huge amount of success at the Winter Olympics.

Bjorn Daehlie earns a spot on this list after winning 12 medals, including eight gold, in Cross Country Skiing.

The Norwegian picked up a total of 29 medals across the Winter Olympics and World Championships between 1991 and 1999.

He was part of the Olympic team in 1988 but didn’t compete and was taken to Calgary, Canada, to learn from the senior members of the squad.

Daehlie’s debut came in 1992 in Albertville, France, when he sealed four medals, including three gold.

Four years later, he backed that up with two further gold medals and two silver before signing off in 1998.

Daehlie became one of the most successful Cross Country Skiiers when picking up three golds and one silver in his final Olympic campaign.

3) Ireen Wust – Netherlands

Ireen Wust is the only active athlete on this list, but she is set to hang up her skates.

The Speed Skater made her Olympic debut in 2006, and she left Turin with four medals – one gold and three bronze.

She has consistently delivered over the following years and arrived at this year’s event in China with 18 medals already on her CV, including five gold.

Despite announcing that she will retire after Beijing 2022, Wust is still at the top of her game, and she became the first woman to win individual gold at five different Olympics by retaining her 1500m title.

Wust set an Olympic record of one minute 53.28 seconds to earn a record-extending 12th Olympic speed skating medal.

She has also won a bronze in the Team Pursuit in China and could sign off with one more medal when she takes to the ice on Thursday in the final of the 1000m.

2) Ole Einar Bjorndalen – Norway

Ole Einar Bjorndalen sits second on the list of multiple medalists at the Winter Olympic Games and rightly gets second place on this list too.

Often referred to by the nickname the “King of Biathlon”, Bjorndalen boasts 13 medals – eight gold, four silver and one bronze.

He left empty-handed when debuting at the Games in 1994 but picked up one gold and one silver in 1998.

His biggest haul came in Salt Lake City four years later when he picked up gold in each of the four events that he entered.

Bjorndalen competed across six different Games before eventually calling time on his career after he was omitted for Norway’s squad for the 2018 edition in Pyeongchang.

1) Marit Bjorgen – Norway

Marit Bjorgen tops the standings for most medals won by any athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics.

The Norwegian picked up 15 between 2002 and 2018, including eight gold, four silver and three bronze.

She won 10 medals across two editions of the Games in 2010 and 2018 as she asserted her dominance in the Cross Country Skiing ranks.

Bjorgen is ranked first in the all-time Cross Country World Cup rankings, winning 114 individual events, while she is the most successful sprinter in World Cup history with 29 victories.

After an illustrious career on the snow, Bjorgen announced her retirement Cross Country Skiing in April 2018, although she did return to competition with long-distance cross country ski squad Team Ragde Eiendom in May 2020.

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