Countries With The Most Olympic Gold Medals In History

Every four years, the Olympic Games roll around and not only bring us an entertaining series of athletic events but bring the world together in friendly competition. Countries put their best athletes in a variable modern arena to fight for bragging rights that they can toss in the face of other countries for years to come. These bragging rights are symbolized by the gold medals athletes take home when they claim the first place prize in an event. The countries on this list are the ones who've proven their athletic prowess far beyond the rest of the world.

It's important to remember that since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896, countries have risen, fallen, and changed. Take, for example, East and West Germany or Bohemia. These countries competed during the Olympics before their modern-day equivalents were formed, so you won't see them factored into the totals of the nations they'd later become, like unified Germany or the Czech Republic. That being said, you might be surprised to learn that one country that isn't around anymore has made the list, the count for which was tallied from the Olympics website data. Keep reading to learn which countries collected the most Olympic gold medals in history.

12. Japan

The postponed 2020 Olympics are being held in Tokyo, Japan, in 2021. As with many past Olympic Games, we can expect to see a bump in Japan's numbers at this event. There's something to be said about homefield advantage and all that. Up until these games, Japan has won 156 gold medals in total. The nation didn't show up until the modern Olympic Games had been rolling for a while, joining at the 1912 games in Stockholm, and winning its first two gold medals during the 1928 games in Amsterdam, as noted by Web Japan. The country would likely have more medals under its belt if it had joined the event earlier.

Besides being a latecomer to the Olympics, as Top End Sports points out, Japan was one of the countries banned from the 1948 London games because of its actions in World War II. Well, more for being an Axis power. But in the decades since, Japan has been a participant and has kicked some butt in the games.

Japan tends to do pretty well in baseball, as well as in swimming, track events, and judo. The inclusion of karate as an Olympic sport is another reason you might see more golds come home to Japan this year. If you didn't know, karate has its origins in the host country and is kind of a big deal there, much like judo.

11. Hungary

Hungary is a surprisingly apt countries at winning Olympic gold medals. Why is it surprising? Well, you'll notice rather quickly that this list is full of the most industrially savvy countries in the world. There's something about those qualities that leads to more medals, like those rich kids who always seem to have an easier go at life. Hungary definitely isn't poor, but it's also not among the wealthiest of nations. Despite that, in several Olympics in a row, this country has hauled home around 10 gold medals, adding up to 177 total, and it has made this list without having won even a handful of Winter Olympic golds. It's rather impressive.

The country was once known for its first-place wins in Olympic soccer. It was a big deal throughout the '50s and '60s, as noted by the Hungarian Review. It was clearly one of, if not the, best Olympic soccer team in the world, and its gold medal glory days certainly proved that. Hungary has a haul of gold medals from soccer wins. Basically, the Hungarian team is a force to be reckoned with as long as the sport is within its wheelhouse.

10. Norway

Hailing from the land of the Vikings, Norwegian athletes live up to the nation's warrior heritage. These athletes are serious competitors in any Olympic competition, but there's one where they shine brighter than most: the Winter Olympic Games. It makes sense, seeing as the nation's borders extend into the Arctic Circle, as the Visit Helgeland website explains. It's almost as if they were made for the snow and ice or something.

Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Norway was rocking an impressive 190 gold medal victories, a vast percentage of which were won during the Winter Games. The country's greatest Olympic victory might just rock your socks off: During the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018, the gorgeous (and mildly frigid) land of Norway skated away with 39 gold medals. According to the Aspen Institute, that's over seven medals per million residents in the country. According to the same source, other nations have been looking towards Norway for pointers on their sports systems. Apparently, Norway is innovative in its approach, including making sure every athlete who wants to become better at their sports has the chance and resources to do so regardless of any disability or economic hindrance. No wonder it made No. 10 on this list.

9. Russia

Russia is a rather large nation, and according to Worldmeter, the country has around 146 million citizens. That's quite a large pool of people to choose from, helping to ensure that the country has some of the best athletes in the world. Ranking ninth on our list with 197 gold medals, that seems to be true. Now, these numbers are far lower than those at the top of the gold medal champs, but there's a reason for that — Russia hasn't exactly been around very long. The old nation of Russia only competed in one Olympics before it joined the massive collection of Eastern European nations known as the Soviet Union (USSR). The USSR competed in quite a few games, but those numbers won't be reflected in Russia's score since there are many former Soviet nations out there, and that wouldn't be fair.

Russia rejoined the Olympics following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This means that all except the few medals won at the first games in which the nation competed have been won since the 1992 games in Barcelona, at an average of more than 12 gold medals per competition (counting the one games before the USSR came into being). Don't expect the nation to be winning any more in the next couple of Olympics though. Russia was banned from competing for four years in 2019, and had 46 medals stripped from its winners, as noted by World Atlas, due to widespread doping among its athletes.

8. Sweden

Directly next to the Winter Olympic wrecking ball that is Norway lies the slightly more impressive country of Sweden. Counting all summer and winter Olympic competitions before the 2020 Tokyo Games, Sweden held an impressive 198 gold medals. Its wins, as laid out in the country's Olympic website profile, include every event from swimming to mountain biking, shooting, equestrian, and many others. Even with such a fully stocked arsenal of athletes, two sports teams stand tall in the sea of victories: the Swedish curling and hockey teams.

Curling looks rather odd compared to a lot of the other events that take place during the Winter Olympic Games, but in reality, rapidly brooming the ice might not be as insane as hurling yourself down a mountainside with your feet strapped to boards. Plus, the sport is highly competitive. According to a quote given to Inside the Games by the Swedish Olympics Committee's operations manager, curling is one of the Swedish team's "strongest national sports."

As for hockey, Sweden is known for pumping out some of the best players in the world, according to Sports Net, in the same way you'd expect from hockey powerhouse Canada. It must be the air up there in the Arctic Circle.

7. China

China reaching No. 7 on this list is actually rather miraculous. Sure, like Russia and the United States, the country has more than its fair share of citizens to choose from when looking for star athletes, but it also has a history of performing poorly during Olympic competitions.

As Reuters explains, China didn't first step foot into an Olympics event until 1928, and even then, it only sent a single competitor — a cyclist — to compete, and he was injured before he got the chance to step on his pedals. In 1932, the nation sent a solo sprinter. It wasn't until the 1936 Berlin games that China sent a reasonably sized team of 69 athletes, who secured a grand total of no medals whatsoever. In 1952, China's three athletes arrived late and only one had time to compete. Then there was that time that the country withdrew from the International Olympic Committee for 20 years or so before being reinstated.

Failure, disaster, politics, and bad luck thwarted China's Olympic teams decade after decade until, finally, the country took home 15 gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles games. This would kick off a monumental string of victories that now total 237 golds, and the country shows no sign of slowing anytime soon.

6. France

France has been home to the Olympic Games on five occasions, according to the Library of Congress, and the nation is set to host the 2024 games as well. Few countries have hosted the games this many times, but France has been there from the first modern games and has won gold medals at almost all of the Summer Olympics.

As Olympian Database notes, France's best events include cycling, alpine skiing, equestrian events, and fencing. Maps of the World puts France second for most fencing medals collected at the World Fencing Championships, behind Italy. You'll also notice that Pantheon's list of greatest French athletes includes two fencers that competed in Olympic competition. This is some serious "Three Musketeers" type stuff, and it is almost romantic to envision these great fencing countries, France and Italy, crossing foils (or sabers, or épée) in the 2021 games.

With fencing included, France seems like a fairly consistent gold medal winner, bringing at least a few home each time. In total, the country has won 248 golds, which is not too shabby at all.

5. Italy

Not too far ahead of France's 248 gold medals is Italy, with 252 golds of its own. Now, when it comes to fencing, Olympic or otherwise, Italy does pull further ahead of their primary rival. Maps of the World clocks Italy at about 70 medals in the World Fencing Championships, ahead of France. 

Much of Italy's lead in gold medals might have to do with how many times the country has attended the games, which is literally every time. Summer and winter games both. According to Top End Sports, few countries can claim this feat. 

Honestly though, the sheer number of Olympic victories in Italy's pocket does have a lot to do with its athletes' fencing skills. As NBC Sports points out, Italy has more than double the medals in fencing than it has in any other sport. With 125 fencing medals total, the country truly does put out the best of the best when it comes to swordspeople. But that's not to say that its other athletes are weak competitors. No, Italy has produced several three-time gold medal winners in the past, and, after all, it ranks fifth in total gold medals won at the Olympics. The country is obviously doing something right.

4. Great Britain

Once the ruler of a vast colonial empire, Great Britain has worked its way up the ladder of gold medal winners with almost the same ferocity as it conquered the world. The nation has won 275 total gold medals ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

To put Great Britain's athletic greatness into perspective, we should really take a look at the 2018 Rio games. As the BBC explains, Great Britain sent 366 athletes to compete in various competitions. A whopping 130 of those competitors, over 35% of them, took medals home. Out of the total events that Team GB competed in, it took home a medal in over 75% of them. It's beyond impressive.

Now, Great Britain doesn't always win to quite that extent, but it does tend to gain at least a few victories in each Olympics. This example simply shows you what the team is capable of and what you should expect in the future.

3. Germany

Like we mentioned before, Germany's gold medal count would be quite a bit higher if we added in the medals that both West and East Germany won while the country was divided, but that wouldn't be fair. Plus, Germany doesn't need the help. This is a country of seriously big wins. As detailed on the Olympics website, the nation won 14 golds in 2018, 17 in 2016, 8 in 2014, and 11 in 2012. Its largest victory came in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when Germany secured 38 golds. Overall, Germany has a count of 326 sparkly golds.

The country has won first place victories in nearly every Olympics it has competed in, and was around when the modern games first began in 1896, but that doesn't mean it showed up every four years like clockwork. In fact, as Top End Sports points out, Germany has been banned from the Games several times. It was excluded from the 1920 and 1924 games for being on the wrong side of World War I, and again in 1948 for its involvement in World War II. Regardless, the country came back strong and really took it home in more recent years.

2. The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union (USSR) hasn't been around since 1991, but the country still holds second place for most Olympic gold medals in history. Now, that title will surely go away as time rolls on, since they can't really win any more. Still, the country had such athletic prowess that it wracked up 451 gold medals in the time it was around.

As Boston University explains, for a long time the Soviet Union refused to take part in the Olympic Games because competitive sporting events were seen as tools of capitalism, but its leaders changed their minds and the country joined the Olympics in 1952. To the USSR, the event was the perfect stage to show off its might, and honestly, they did. Everything was political though. This was a way for the nation to engage with and gain the intrigue of workers in foreign lands since, after all, workers were the backbone of the hammer and sickle.

According to the same source, by the '70s, the rivalry between the USSR and the U.S. was in full swing in the Olympics arena. The chest-puffing display makes sense when you remember that this is an event watched by every country with TVs.

1. The United States

As we move on to the No. 1 slot, the gold medal count becomes a little ridiculous. According to the official Olympic website, the United States currently holds the record for most wins with a whopping 1,022 gold medals and 2,522 medals overall. Some of the other records the country holds might not be so great (defense spending, prison population, etc), but this one is a seriously fantastic achievement. It's more than double the gold medals of the second-place country and triple that of Germany's, who takes second place in nations that currently exist. The only thing that could have upped the count is if the U.S. had actually attended every single games.

Back to that rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States: The U.S. took the whole thing pretty seriously, to the point where the country not only refused to attend the Moscow Games in 1980 over the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan the year before, but straight up led a boycott against the event, as explained by the US Department of State. Outside of this, the U.S. has attended every Summer Olympics. The nation may have missed a few golds during the Moscow games, but it has plenty to spare, and will likely take even more during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.