Every four years the world puts aside its differences and unites to celebrate one of the greatest tests of human endurance; The Olympics. Years of dedicated practice, pushing every limit of personal strength, both mental and physical, knowing that in a split second, fate could be irrevocably changed, all for a shot at that elusive gold. These athletes represent our inner ambitions, their failure is our failure and their success is ours to share, so when we come across someone who somehow beats the odds, emerges from nowhere to take the gold, the celebration is that much greater. We love these stories, because they give us all hope, so to give you a dose of inspiration, here are the top 5 historical Olympians.

1. Jim Thorpe

An all-round athlete, the American baseball, hockey, lacrosse and track-and-field star suffered many personal setbacks, losing his eight-year-old brother to pneumonia early on, followed by the loss of his mother two years later. His meeting with Glenn Scobey ‘Pop’ Warner, one of the greatest coaches in early American football, would see Thorpe go on to win two gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games in the newly-introduced pentathlon and decathlon events. Thorpe snatched the decathlon title from the crowd favourite, beating him by an incredible 700 points. Tragically, Thorpe was stripped of his medals the following year on a technicality that he had played minor league baseball. However, in 1982, after Thorpe’s death, his family managed to get the medals returned and he was reinstated as one of the greatest Olympians of all time.

jim thorpe

2. Jesse Owens

Through great strength of character and despite numerous odds, Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The seventh of eleven children, and a sickly child, Owens was spotted on the playground by coach Charles Riley, who immediately started training him on the athletics track. The young American began setting records in 1935 but it was his outstanding performance at the Summer Olympics the following year, going against Hitler’s Aryan ideals and fighting racism back home, that Owens became a household name, setting another world record in the relay event. Despite his success, Owens was still treated as a second-class citizen back home until 1976 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald Ford as well as several posthumous awards.


3. Nadia Elena Comaneci

Considered by many as one of the best gymnasts of all time, the Romanian started her athletic career at six years old and went on to win five golds, three silvers and a bronze at the 1976 Montreal and 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Her defining moment came at the 1976 games when Comaneci achieved what was previously believed to be impossible, scoring a perfect ten for a gymnastic event, an achievement she went on to repeat a further six times at Olympic competitions. Comaneci was also the youngest recipient of the Hero of Socialist Labour, one of the highest honours given out by the former Soviet Union.


4. Carl Lewis

Widely considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, Lewis earned nine gold medals and one silver at four Olympic Games; Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988, Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996. Despite qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Lewis couldn’t compete because of the American boycott, however, he went on to set two international records in the 100m – one by beating the next competitor by eight feet – as well as team records for 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m. A controversial figure, Lewis failed a doping test but was eventually cleared by the IAAF, and he is still considered to be one of the best Olympians of all time.

carl lewis

5. Kelly Holmes

Double-gold winner at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Holmes is believed to be the best female middle-distance runner to emerge from Great Britain. Her career started in the army as a truck driver, but she followed her interest and became a Physical Training Instructor, competing and winning several army competitions. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Holmes placed fourth despite running with a stress fracture in her leg. Injuries seemed to haunt her athletic career however, she still won a bronze medal for the 800m, despite a virus only allowing her six weeks of training prior. She arrived at the Athens Olympics in good form, becoming Great Britain’s first woman double-gold medallist in 84 years and eventually being awarded the DBE in 2005.


The Summer Olympics 2016 kick off on the 5th August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. All eyes will on some of the greatest athletes of our time. For the best Olympic Betting odds, visit Keith Ho BetXchange and place your Olympic bets early to avoid disappointment. The best promotions, bonuses and Olympic betting odds on athletics, gymnastics, swimming and more are available at Keith Ho BetXchange.

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