It’s time for a debate.
What makes an athlete the greatest Winter Olympian? Is it as simple as most gold medals or most medals? Is it about prolonged excellence? Do results outside of the Olympics matter? What about records and unprecedented achievements?
Here are a few on my list (not in order of ranking):
Apolo Ohno — The athlete with the most medals isn’t always the greatest, but it’s a suitable place to begin the list. Ohno won eight Olympic short track medals in his career, including two gold, over three Games.
Bonnie Blair — Blair won six medals, the most of any female U.S. Winter Olympian, and competed in four Games. She also shares the record for most career Winter Olympic gold medals by an American (five) with …
Eric Heiden — I imagine few would question that Heiden had the greatest single-Games Winter Olympics performance by an American. He swept the speed skating events in Lake Placid in 1980. The knock against him is that he didn’t win medals at multiple Olympics, though he did finish seventh as a 17-year-old in the 1500m in 1976.
Dick Button — Button did not have the advantage of competing in multiple events like speed skaters. He won back-to-back Olympic golds in 1948 and 1952, a feat no man has matched since. He also landed the first double Axel in competition at the 1948 Olympics and the first triple jump in competition at the 1952 Olympics. Extra points for innovation.
Angela Ruggiero/Jenny Potter — It’s important not to leave out team sports, where longevity is important. Ruggiero and Potter won gold in the first Olympic women’s hockey competition in 1998 and stayed on for 12 more years, earning two more silvers and a bronze.