Top 10 Olympic Performances of All Time (Track)

By: Patrick Larson

Alright, before I get too many comments disagreeing with my list, I'll just preface by saying that this top 10 ranking is incredibly subjective and purely my opinion. When I was thinking about the greatest Olympic performances of all-time, I tried to include moments that were impressive based on the time as well as ones that carried some sort of significance given the context around the performance. Last thing, this list is only for track events. Let's get into it!

1. Karsten Warholm, 2021 Olympics

This could be recency bias, but I also think this does deserve to be the top performance in all of track and field history. After breaking the world record just a month earlier, Warholm absolutely went off again breaking his own record by .76 seconds. For comparison, in the flat 400 it took 48 years for the world record to come down by a comparable amount.

2. Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympics

This was a tough one for me to not rank #1. At the Berlin Olympics, Owens took home gold medals in the 100, 200, 4x1, and long jump. It took 48 years for another person to accomplish the same feat. But even better, this was a massive “fuck you” to Adolf Hitler as he watched on in the crowd.  

 3. Emil Zapotek, 1952 Olympics

Still the only person to win the 5K, 10K, and marathon at the Olympics. Could Siffan Hassan’s 1500, 5k, 10k triple match this?

 4. David Rudisha, 2012 olympics

Unusual in a championship race, David Rudisha led this race wire to wire and was on a mission to break the world record in the 800m. He did the unthinkable and ran under 1:41—still the only person to do so in the event.

 5. Sydney Mclaughlin, 2021 Olympics

Just when we thought the 400m hurdles couldn’t get better after the show that Karsten Warholm put on, Sydney Mclaughlin told the whole world to hold her beer as she broke her own world record by nearly half a second—an astonishing amount that surely would have been the performance of the Olympics had it not been for Warholm the night before.

 6. Joan Benoit, 1984 Olympics

While many women have run faster than Joan Benoit did at the 1984 Olympics, the context around this make it so spectacular. Up until 1984, women were not able to compete in the marathon at the Olympics. In front of her home, American crowd, Joan dominated the marathon and inspired generations of female runners.

 7. Usain Bolt, 2008 Olympics

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Usain bolt burst onto the scene in New York when he defeated Tyson Gay running a new world record of 9.72. Doing what many thought impossible, Bolt took that momentum to the 2008 Olympics where he ran 9.69 and made it look all too easy.

 8. Flojo, 1988 Olympics

The 1988 olympic games was all Flo-Jo. She dominated the 100m and 200m races and set world records in both races—records that still stand today.

9. Mo Farah, 2012 Olympics

While there were no record breaking performances from Mo at the 2012 Olympics, what makes this worthy of a top 10 performance is the fact he was able to win gold in both the 5k and 10k in front of his home crowd in London. Farah cemented himself as an all-time great with this Olympic double.

 10. Wilma Rudolph, 1960 Olympics

After overcoming bouts with polio as a child, Wilma Rudolph went on to become one of the most accomplished Olympians of all time. In 1960, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympic games.