Only two athletes have won multiple titles in the event: Lasse Virén became the first with his back-to-back wins in 1972 and 1976, while Meseret Defar became the first woman to win two titles in 2012, having previously won in 2004. Three athletes have reached the podium on three occasions: Defar was also the 2008 bronze medallist, Tirunesh Dibaba won medals from 2004–2012, and Paavo Nurmi won medals in the period from 1920–1928. Historically, athletes in this event have also had success in the 10,000 metres at the Olympics. The winner of the men's Olympic 5000 m has completed a long-distance track double on eight occasions, the most recent being Mo Farah at the 2012 London Olympics. Tirunesh Dibaba is the only woman to complete this double, having done so at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ethiopia is the most successful nation in the event, having taken six gold medals and thirteen medals in total. Finland is the next most successful, also with six gold medals, but with a total of twelve overall. Finland's period of great success in the 1920s and 1930s led to the wide usage of the nickname the Flying Finns; Kaarlo Maaninka was the last Finnish athlete to medal over 5000 m, in 1980. Kenya have also won twelve medals in the 5000 m, although John Ngugi is the only Kenyan to have won Olympic gold.