Britain’s Most Successful Olympic Athletes

The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is drawing ever closer and the excitement is beginning to mount. Fans are looking forward to a sporting extravaganza like no other, whilst athletes will be completing their preparations, aiming to peak at just the right time after four years or more of hard toil and relentless training.

Team GB has a number of big medal hopes and they are actually third-favourites according to the bookies to win the most golds. Admittedly they are priced at between 33/1 and 100/1 with different sites, whilst the longest odds on America and China are 1/3 and 9/2, respectively! It would be a minor miracle if Britain were to top the medal table but they will certainly bring home an array of gold, silver and bronze glory.

What’s more, over the years they have produced some incredible athletes who can stand alongside the all-time Olympic greats. Here we take a look at Britain’s greatest Olympians of all time.

Which British Athletes Have Won the Most Olympic Medals?

Britain’s greatest Olympian, most successful Olympian, or Olympian with the most medals might be the same thing depending on your point of view. However, whilst the first two are somewhat subjective, there can be no argument with a simple medal tally. Of course, how we prize golds over other lesser medals is another question, but we can say with absolute clarity who has won the most medals and, separately who has won the most golds. So let’s do that!

Most Golds & Most Medals for Team GB

Jason Kenny
Jason Kenny (Credit Nicola via Wikipedia)

As it happens, the person, man or woman, with the most Olympic golds for Britain also has the most medals overall. And that man is cyclist, Jason Kenny. Kenny made his Games bow in 2008 and then competed in London four years later, as well as Rio 2016 and the delayed Tokyo Olympics which took place in 2021.

The Bolton ace, who was knighted in 2022, retired shortly after being made a Sir, so will not be adding to his tally, at least not directly. That said, he is now a coach with British Cycling, and so will be hoping to help the current stars and those of the future achieve success.

Kenny boasts a hugely impressive seven gold medals and nine in total, with two silvers as well. In China, in 2008, he earned his first medals, taking gold in the team sprint and silver in the sprint. Four years later on home soil he improved on that return, helping GB defending the team sprint title and upgrading his individual sprint from silver to gold.

His most successful Games came in Brazil though, as he defended both of his golds from 2012 and added a third in the keirin. Last, in Tokyo 2020 (as it is called despite taking place in 2021), he once again took gold in the keirin but was unable to make it four in a row in the team sprint, having to settle for a silver.

The unbelievable accomplishments of the softly spoken sprinter mean he is the joint 15th most successful Olympian from any country in terms of golds won. He is also the leading cyclist in terms of both total medals and golds and there is a good chance many of these records will stand for some time.

Britain’s Top Female Olympian

Laura Kenny
Laura Kenny (Credit Nicola via Wikipedia)

Laura Kenny, formerly Trott and Jason’s wife, has won more Olympic gold medals than any other British woman. The brilliant, affable cyclist, boasts five gold medals across three Games between 2012 and 2021.

She too has retired but for now at least she is tied with the most medals by any woman, her six (she also won a silver) putting her level with equestrian star Charlotte Dujardin. Dujardin has three golds, a silver and two bronzes. With Dujardin hoping to compete in Paris, Laura Kenny’s total of six medals could be surpassed, but her record of five golds will take some topping.

Cycling Olympians Can Earn More Medals

In terms of golds, Britain’s four most decorated Olympic athletes all achieved their success on a bike, as shown in the table below.

Athlete Sport Golds Silvers Bronzes Total
Jason Kenny Track Cycling 7 2 0 9
Chris Hoy Track Cycling 6 1 0 7
Laura Kenny Track Cycling 5 1 0 6
Bradley Wiggins Track & Road Cycling 5 1 2 8

Cycling has the advantage of being multi-event, with various disciplines falling under that broader umbrella and an athlete being able to take part in more than one at the same games. This means that it is, in theory at least, easier to accrue a bigger total of medals than in some other sports. For example, a discus thrower will almost certainly only be contesting one medal at each games.

Most Gold Medals Away from Cycling

Sir Steve Redgrave
Sir Steve Redgrave (Credit Ollie Harding via Flickr)

The most successful non-cyclist for Team GB is the legendary Sir Steve Redgrave. Redgrave has five golds and a bronze, won during an Olympic career for rowing that survived his own declaration of “Anyone who sees me go anywhere near a boat again, ever, you’ve got my permission to shoot me”, following his fourth gold win in 1996. Of course, he came back for more in 2000 and added that fifth gold!

Other Notable British Olympians

Mo Farah
Mo Farah (Credit King…. via Flickr)

So many great athletes have represented Team GB over the years and some deserve the classification of great even though they may never have won a medal, let alone gold. However, narrowing it down to those performers who did win multiple medals still leaves us with far too big a pool to detail them all. Listed below however are some of the very best of the best, Britain’s most successful Olympians, along with a brief summary of what they achieved.

  • Mo Farah – A haul of four gold medals makes Farah the most successful track and field athlete ever for Britain.
  • Ben Ainslie – The charismatic Ainslie is Team GB’s most successful sailor, boasting four golds and a silver.
  • Max Whitlock – Gymnast has three golds and three silvers and is Britain’s greatest ever gymnast, with hopefully more to come in Paris.
  • Adam Peaty – No British swimmer has more golds than Peaty’s three and he will hope to add to those, and his two silvers, in 2024. Though he’ll always be a long way behind the USA’s Michael Phelps who won an almost ludicrous total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes in the pool!