There is no greater stage for sport than that of the Olympics. In North America, trophies are distributed to “World Champions” annually, but no athlete prepares more for one life-changing competition than an Olympian. The amount of pressure an athlete faces—from his or her country and the rest of the World—is downright frightening. Dealing with the pressures of sport is incredibly exhausting in North American leagues, yet in many cases, an athlete can jump back on the playing field or court the next night and make amends for a poor yesterday. However, that luxury doesn’t exist at the Olympics, making it even more difficult to cope with the pressure.
United States swimmer Michael Phelps made breaking Olympic records look easy at the 2008 summer games in Beijing. Not only does Phelps have 22 Olympic medals—18 of those Gold—in three Olympic games, but he also shattered 10 Olympic records. The United States as a whole has dominated in swimming on the men’s side, and many other countries on this list have specialized in a certain event, capturing the majority of its records in that discipline. Along with Phelps’ triumph in Beijing, the games were home to another one of the more memorable record-setting Olympic performances. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt captured the prestigious title of World’s fastest man, breaking both Olympic and World records. He promptly began to run a victory lap before pointing to the sky in celebration. He became the first man to hold both the 100 meters and 200 meters world records.
Like the World Cup did last summer, the Olympic games head to Rio in 2016, and one can only hope to see more record-breaking performances. But before we get there, here is a look at the 12 countries with the most Olympic Records at the summer edition of the games.
8 T-10. Iran, Italy, and Jamaica – 4
Iran’s Hossein Rezazadeh dominated the over-105 weight class in consecutive summer games. He completed the 212 kg snatch and 472 kg total in Sydney in 2000, then a clean and jerk of 263 kg in Athens in 2004. Country mate Kourosh Bagheri completed the 187-kilogram snatch in the 94 kg weight class at the Sydney games in 2000.
The Italians have set records in track and field, swimming, and shooting. Alex Schwazer, who retired during the 2012 summer Olympics after failing a drug test, captured the 50 kilometer walk record in Beijing. In swimming, Federica Pellegrini broke two records in Beijing: the 200 meter freestyle and 400 meter freestyle. Chiara Cainero picked up an Olympic record in women’s shooting in the skeet competition.
Finally, Jamaica’s Olympic records may be the most notable; two of them were set by one of the world’s most electrifying figures, and its fastest man, Usain Bolt. The flamboyant literal lightning bolt demonstrated the stage presence few athletes possess at the 2008 games in Beijing, setting the 100 and 200 meter records. Melanie Walker owns the only Olympic record held by a Jamaican woman; she captured the 400 meter hurdles record in Beijing.
7 T-8. Great Britain, and Turkey – 6
Five of Great Britain’s six Olympic records have come in cycling, and three of those involved male athlete Chris Hoy. The Edinburgh native made history in the sprint (Beijing, 2008), 1 kilometre time trial (Athens 2004), and team pursuit (Beijing, 2008) competitions. Fellow Great Britain cyclist Victoria Pendleton captured the women’s sprint record at the 2008 games in Beijing. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington also made history in Beijing; she broke the only non-cycling record for Great Britain—the 800 meter freestyle.
Tied with GB is Turkey, and each of its Olympic records have come in weightlifting. Halil Mutlu obliterated the competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 56-kilogram weight class. He broke Olympic records in three disciplines: snatch (137 kg), clean and jerk (167), and total (305 kg). Four years later in Athens, Turkish weightlifter Taner Sagir carried on Mutlu’s legacy, breaking the snatch (172 kg) and total (375 kg) Olympic records in the 77-kilogram weight category. In the same Olympic games, Nurcan Taylan set a new women’s Olympic record in the snatch discipline (97 kg) among 48 kilogram lifters.
6 Belarus – 7
Similar to Iran’s Olympic triumph, six of the seven Belarus Olympic records have come in weightlifting. Andrei Aramnau ran the table at the 2008 games in Beijing, as he set records in the snatch (200), clean and jerk (236), and total (436) categories in 105 kilogram weight class. Meanwhile, his country mate Andrei Rybakou handled his business in the 85 kilogram weight class in Beijing, breaking records in the snatch (185) and total (394) disciplines. Hanna Batsiushka set the women’s 63 kg weight class snatch record (115 kg) at the 2004 games in Athens. Belarusian track and field athlete Aksana Miankova set the remaining Olympic record in the hammer throw competition with a score of 76.34 meters.
5 T-5. Germany (includes former East Germany) and Russia (includes former Soviet Union) – 8
Including the four Olympic records set by athletes competing for the former country, Germany ranks sixth on the all-time list with eight Olympic records, tied with Russia. Unlike Iran and Belarus, Germany’s records have come in a number of different competitions, from track and field, to swimming, to shooting. Ulf Timmerman broke the shot put record at the 1988 games in Seoul, and country mate Ilona Slupianek broke the same record on the women’s side at the 1980 games in Moscow. Martina Hellman set the final track and field record in the discus throw at the 1988 games. In swimming, Britta Steffen snagged two records at the Beijing games in 2008: the 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle. Christian Klees broke the 50 meter rifle prone record in men’s shooting at the 1996 games in Atlanta.
On the flip side, all but one of Russia’s records have come in track and field. On the men’s side, Sergey Litvinov broke the hammer throw record in 1988 while representing the Soviet Union. The Russians also broke six Olympic records in women’s track and field: the 800 meter (Nadezhda Olizarenko) the 3,000 meter steeplechase (Gulnara Galkina-Samitova), the 4x400 meter relay (Tatyana Ledovskaya, Olga Nazarova, Mariya Pinigina, and Olga Bryzgina), the 20 kilometer walk (Olga Kaniskina), the high jump (Yelena Slesarenko), and the pole vault (Yelena Isinbayeva). Russia’s other Olympic record was broken by Boris Kokorev in the 50 meter pistol shooting category in Atlanta.
4 Australia – 11
Despite the United States’ dominance in men’s swimming, and specifically that of Michael Phelps, Australia managed to capture three Olympic records in the category. Eamon Sullivan (Beijing, 2008), Ian Thorpe (Sydney, 2000), and Grant Hackett (Beijing, 2008) set records in the 100 meter freestyle, 400 meter freestyle, and 1,500 meter freestyle, respectively. On the women’s side, the Australians set five new Olympic records at the 2008 games in Beijing. Leisel Jones broke the 100 meter breaststroke, meanwhile Stephanie Rice broke two records for her country; the 200 meter individual medley and 400 meter individual medley. The two athletes also set records in team competitions: the 4x200 meter freestyle relay and 4x100 meter medley relay. The nation’s other records came in women’s cycling and men’s archery.
3 South Korea – 16
All but three of South Korea’s summer Olympic records have come in archery competitions. In fact, it owns 13 of a possible 15 Olympic records in the field. On the women’s side Park Sung Hyun set four Olympic records; she set two in Athens and two in Beijing. On the flip side, Jang Yong-ho, Kim Bo-ram, and Oh Kyo-moon set team records in Atlanta in 1996 and four years later in Sydney. South Korea’s three other records have come in weightlifting, where Jang Mi-Ran conquered the field at the 2008 games in Beijing, breaking three women’s Olympic records in the over-75 kilogram weight class.
2 China – 24
China has ruled the summer Olympics field in weightlifting, especially on the women’s side. The country has 17 total records in weightlifting, and 14 have been set by women. In the 48 kilogram weight class in women’s weightlifting in Beijing, Chen Xiexia broke two Olympic records. She lifted 117 kg in the clean and jerk category, and 212 kg in the total discipline. In Sydney, Yang Zia broke the snatch (110 kg) and total (225 kg) records in the 53 kilogram weight class. China owns all three Olympic records in each of the 58, 69, and 75 kilogram classes.
Its other records were set by Liu Xiang in the 110 meter hurdles in Athens, Liu Zige in the 200 meter butterfly competition in Beijing, and it holds five more records in shooting.
1 United States – 26
As expected, the United States tops the list of Olympic records with an astonishing 26. The USA owns a remarkable 10 records in aquatic competitions, led by Michael Phelps’s eight total Olympic records. Each record was set during the prime of his career- the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States own six men’s track and field records, including Michael Johnson’s 400 meter victory at the 1996 Olympics on home soil in Atlanta. Accordingly, the U.S. grabbed five records in women’s track and field, including two from Florence Griffith-Joyner and two from her sister-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee. The rest of the States’ records have come in women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s shooting.