Michael Phelps is the most dominant athlete in Olympic history — and we mean all of Olympic history. The American swimmer bested a record that was previously held by an ancient Greek runner more than two millennia ago.
When Phelps won the 200-meter individual medley in Rio earlier this week, he claimed the record for the most individual gold medals boasting 13 of them. He has 22 gold medals in total, but some of them came from relay races. With that victory, Phelps surpassed the previous record of 12 solo gold medals that Leonidas of Rhodes held for, oh, 2,160 years.
According to BBC, Leonidas was probably the best runner in ancient Greece. He competed in four successive Olympiads in 164 B.C., 160 B.C., 156 B.C., and 152 B.C. He won three races in each of those games for a total of 12 medals (though technically winners back in the ancient games received an olive wreath rather than hardware — but you get the idea).
Athletes who won all three of the races at an ancient Olympics were known as triastes, and Greek records show that only seven people ever accomplished the feat. Leonidas was the only man to do it more than once — let alone four times.
The races were very different from modern track and field events. There was the stadion, which was about 200 meters depending on the stadium, and the diaulos, which was twice that distance. Those races were both run in the nude, but for the third race, the hoplitodromos, runners wore heavy armour and carried a shield.
Leonidas was renowned for his prowess in both sprinting and endurance events.
We actually don’t know too much about Leonidas beyond his athletic accomplishments. His name, which comes from the greek word for lion, suggests that he may have came from a wealthy, important family.
Only time will tell if Phelps will hold onto his new record for another 2,000 years.
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