When the American swimmer, Michael Phelps, won the 200m Butterfly Gold in the Rio Olympics, he levelled one of the longest-standing records of all-time. The 2168-year old record for the most individual successes in Olympics. It was set by the famous athlete Leonidas of Rhodes in original Olympic games of 152 BC. Leonidas won his first Olympic crown in 164 BCE, in three separate foot races – the stadion, the diaulos, and the hoplitodromos. He repeated this feat in the next three subsequent Olympics, in 160 BCE, in 156 BCE, and finally in 152 BCE at the age of 36. That is three consecutive event wins over four Olympics!!! An astoundingly rare achievement even in today’s environment where advanced sports sciences and equipment ensures minimal impact and damage on the athlete.
This record stood till Rio Olympics. It is quite likely that this title will now pass onto a similarly worthy contender of the Modern-era.
Leonidas was renowned not only for his unsurpassed number of victories but for his versatility as a runner. His favored races required speed and strength in differing degrees; the stadion and the diaulos, 200-yard and 400-yard races respectively, were best suited to sprinters. While the hoplitodromos, a diaulos performed with bronze armor and shield, required more muscular strength and endurance. Philostratus the Athenian wrote in his Gymnastikos that Leonidas’s versatility made all previous theories of runners’ training and body types obsolete!