How often do three-way ties happen?

Is this possibly the greatest image of the 2016 Olympic Games?

Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh holding hands on the second step of the podium after finishing tied for the silver medal in the men’s 100-meter butterfly on Saturday.

If you hadn’t heard the news by now, Joseph Schooling not only became the first athlete from Singapore to win an Olympic gold medal, but he did so by beating arguably the greatest swimmer ever, and at least two others who would have been worthy winners of the title themselves.

But how often do three-way ties for a medal at the Olympics happen? The answer is more often than you would think – 21 times to be precise, although that number might be somewhat deceiving.

Three-way ties happened most often in gymnastics under the old 10-point, system. It even produced a four-way tie at the 1984 Olympics, when a quartet of gymnasts finished level in the men’s vault.

Ties are also more likely to happen in events like pole vault, or high jump, where multiple athletes can clear a height and fail at the next step. If they remain level on count-backs, then a tie occurs. That is exactly what happened in the men’s high jump at both the 1992 and 2012 Olympics.


The occurrence of a three-way tie is far more unlikely in a race. In fact, you have to go back all the way to 1968 to find a three-way split in a race, albeit at the Winter Olympics, when American speed skaters shared the silver medal.

However, at the time, those races were only timed to one tenth of a second, and not a hundredth as they are now. So should those races have been timed using modern technology, chances are the end result might have been different.

The amount of times a three-way has happened in a race, at the Summer Olympics? Just once, on Friday.