NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s decade this week. Here are 10 of the Summer Olympic athletes (five American, five international) who dominated the last 10 years …
Simone Biles, United States
Four Olympic gold medals in 2016
Record 25 World Championships medals
Biles is the only athlete on this list who competed at just one Olympics in this decade. That’s a testament to just how dominant she has been. Undefeated for six years in all-around competition. History-making winning margins. Four unprecedented skills among three apparatuses that are now named after her. Before Rio, teammate Aly Raisman was the first to say that Simone was competing in her own division. That was true four years ago, and it remains true going into the 2020s.
Usain Bolt, Jamaica
Track and Field
Six Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
First sprinter to sweep the 100m and 200m at multiple Olympics
Bolt followed his breakout and world records in 2008 and 2009 with impressive longevity through the end of his career in 2017. Bolt’s competition got faster in this decade — and he slowed slightly — but he was always the man to beat. Training partner Yohan Blake defeated him at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic Trials, only for Bolt to return the favor at the London Games. Justin Gatlin re-emerged in the next Olympic cycle, also handing Bolt a loss in 2013, but the Jamaican still swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and to complete his Olympic career in Rio.
Lisa Carrington, New Zealand
2012 and 2016 Olympic K-1 200m champion
At least one gold medal at seven different world championships in the 2010s
The queen of her sport’s splash-and-dash. Carrington won all nine Olympic or world titles in the individual 200m from 2011-19. She’s also added golds in the K-1 500m and K-2 500m at the world championships. In 2014, Carrington recorded the fastest 200m time in history, 37.898 seconds, which took more than a second off the 20-year-old mark held by German Birgit Fischer, considered by many the greatest female Olympian in history.
Ashton Eaton, United States
Track and Field
Two Olympic decathlon titles
Twice broke the decathlon world record
If the Olympic decathlon champion is still the world’s greatest athlete, then Eaton is going into the eighth year of his reign. The Oregon native opened the 2010s with a world championships silver medal at age 22 in 2011. Then he won every single global title, including indoor heptathlons, from 2012 through his retirement in 2016. Eaton’s personal bests in the 400m and the 400m hurldes (the latter not a decathlon event) would have made the Rio Olympic team.
Katie Ledecky, United States
Five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
World records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles
A 12-year-old at the start of the decade, Ledecky became arguably the world’s most dominant athlete for the 2010s. She was the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports at London 2012 and brought back gold in the 800m free, upsetting British favorite Rebecca Adlington. Then Ledecky really turned it on, breaking 14 world records from 2013-18 and coining the Ledecky Slam — sweeping the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free titles at one world championships in 2015.
Michael Phelps, United States
Nine Olympic gold medals in the 2010s; 12 overall medals
Broke the record for career Olympic medals
Phelps’ prime came just before the start of the decade, with his eight Olympic gold medals in 2008 and last three individual world records in 2009. The 2010s were defined by comebacks — from ceding the title of world’s greatest swimmer to Ryan Lochte in 2010 and 2011 to outperforming his countryman at the 2012 London Games. From gaining 30 pounds in a 2012-13 retirement to becoming the world’s fastest butterflier again in 2014. From a DUI arrest, suspension, rehab stint and suicidal thoughts to become Team USA’s flag bearer in Rio, an Olympic team captain for the first time and end his Olympic career with five more gold medals.
Teddy Riner, France
Olympic heavyweight titles in 2012, 2016
Every world title from 2010 through 2017
Riner, a native of Guadeloupe, is a giant in his sport. Not just because he is 6 feet, 8 inches, and 290 pounds. But because he hasn’t lost a competitive match since September 2010. He is riding a win streak of around 150 matches, which includes skipping the 2018 and 2019 World Championships as he lightened his tournament schedule going into his fourth Olympics in 2020.
Svetlana Romashina, Russia
Olympic gold medals in all four synchro events in the 2010s
13 World titles across 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019
Romashina gets the nod over longtime duet partner Natalya Ishchenko, who retired after the Rio Olympics. Romashina also left the sport after those Games, but she came back to win three more world titles this past summer at age 29 (her first golds came in 2005, when she was 14).
Claressa Shields, United States
Won four of the five Olympic and world titles this decade before turning pro
Lost one bout in the entire decade, while winning more than 80
Shields has been the face of Olympic women’s boxing since taking gold at age 17 in the sport’s debut at the 2012 London Games. The Flint, Mich., product followed up by sweeping the world titles in the next Olympic cycle and capping her amateur career with repeat Olympic gold.
Anita Wlodarczyk, Poland
Track and Field
Won five of the seven Olympic or world hammer titles in the 2010s
Recorded the 15 farthest throws in history
Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017 before defeats the last two seasons and arthroscopic left knee surgery that kept her out of worlds in September. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history.
Honorable Mention: Mo Farah (Track and Field, Great Britain), Jin Jong-Oh (Shooting, South Korea), Laura Kenny (Cycling, Great Britain), Mariana Pajon (Cycling, Colombia), Maggie Steffens (Water Polo, United States), Christian Taylor (Track and Field, United States) and Kohei Uchimura (Gymnastics, Japan).
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Bolt won five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s. He won six, sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in 2012 and in 2016.
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