Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps lead dominant Summer Olympians of 2010s

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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
Gymnastics
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
Flatwater Canoe
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
Swimming
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
Swimming
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
Judo
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
Synchronized Swimming
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
Boxing
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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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
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Nevin Harrison, 17, becomes first American to win world sprint canoe title

Nevin Harrison
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Nevin Harrison, a 17-year-old from Seattle, became the first American to earn a world championships medal in a sprint canoe event, and it happened to be gold, surprising herself in the 200m in Szeged, Hungary, on Saturday.

Harrison covered the course in 49.30 seconds to win by .44. She crossed the finish line, stopped, looked to the side, held up one finger to question her result, then covered her mouth once she realized it.

Race video is here.

“I have no words right now,” she said upon getting out of the water. “It’s unreal, so much more than I ever thought. … Wow, what a moment.”

Harrison became a serious canoeist three years ago, after hip dysplasia forced her to stop sprinting on the track. She said merely making Saturday’s final was the “biggest dream ever.”

Harrison joined Greg Barton as the only Americans to win an individual world title in sprint canoe or kayak. No U.S. woman has earned Olympic gold in any kayak event. The last silver came via Rebecca Giddens in the slalom in 2004.

Women’s canoe debuts at the Tokyo Games. Women’s events were added and men’s events removed to make it equal with eight events per gender in canoe and kayak.

If Harrison can repeat the feat in Tokyo next year, she will become the youngest woman to earn Olympic canoe or kayak gold, breaking the record of legendary German Birgit Fischer-Schmidt, whom some consider the greatest female Olympian in history across all sports with 12 medals and eight golds.

Saturday’s final lacked Canadian six-time 200m world champion Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, who is provisionally suspended after recently testing positive for a banned substance.

MORE: Tonga flag bearer finishes last in sprint kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, a personal best and the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Malakai Ahokava, a 36-year-old sweet potato farmer listed as the Tonga canoe federation president, with heats Thursday and Friday. Taufatofua said Ahokava sold some of his crop to pay for travel expenses.

“He’s off at the farm,” Taufatofua said, adding that the two got in a boat together for the first time last week.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

NBC Olympic Researcher Reina Kern contributed to this report from Hungary.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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