Sports
133.2k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated February 22, 2021 32.5m votes 133.2k voters 1.0m views1.4k items

List RulesOpen to all amateur or professional athletes in any sport

The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic, famous players in the history of sports. This list gathers sports stars from across every professional league, as well as amateur athletes who may have never competed professionally, in one overall list. Though it may be challenging to compare performance in a variety of different competitive arenas requiring different skill sets, this list nevertheless attempts to distinguish the top, highest-performing and most successful athletes ever to play. The sports stars that rise to the top can be considered to be the best athletes of all time.

Aspects to consider in picking a best athlete of all time would include, obviously, that player's raw talent and born ability. Some individuals seem to prodigally gifted in their sport of choice, and it's hard to discount the importance of this kind of natural talent. However, it's also important to evaluate hard work, discipline and a commitment to the game. Some athletes may not have the natural, genetic ability to dunk a basketball or hit a home run, but nonetheless have trained to the point of reaching these goals all the same. (They may not be the greatest athlete of all time at all sports, but they have mastered their activity.)

Finally, it can be a challenge to compare an athlete who competed in a solo competition with a member of a well known sports organization or club. How do you look at the achievements of, say, a boxer like Muhammad Ali alongside an athlete like Michael Jordan, who had to not only perform to his own best abilities but work as a cohesive unit along with other members of his team? These are the questions that must be answered when compiling a list of the world's greatest all-time athletes.

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  • Muhammad Ali1
    45,602
    29,506

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an...  more

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  • Carl Lewis2
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    Carl Lewis

    Birmingham, Alabama
    Frederick Carlton "Carl" Lewis (born July 1, 1961) is an American former track and field...  more

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  • Usain Bolt3
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    Usain Bolt

    Sherwood Content, Jamaica
    Usain St Leo Bolt (; born 21 August 1986) is a retired Jamaican sprinter. He is a world...  more

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  • Roger Federer4
    33,219
    25,740

    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
    ← Roger Federer (German pronunciation: [ˈrɔdʒər ˈfeːdərər]; born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss...  more

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  • Michael Jordan5
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    Michael Jordan

    New York City, New York
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  • Michael Phelps6
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    Towson, Baltimore
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  • Diego Maradona7
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    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine retired...  more

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  • LeBron James8
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    Akron, Ohio
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  • Alexander Karelin9
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    Novosibirsk, Russia
    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September...  more

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  • Pelé10
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    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
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  • Ayrton Senna11
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  • Babe Ruth12
    36,973
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    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
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  • Lionel Messi13
    42,967
    27,426

    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
    Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾez ˈmesi] (listen); born...  more

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  • Paavo Nurmi14
    16,880
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    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2...  more
  • Janica Kostelić15
    16,372
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    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
    Janica Kostelić (Croatian pronunciation: [janitsa kǒstelitɕ]; born 5 January 1982) is a former...  more
  • Larry Bird16
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    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
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  • Bjørn Dæhlie17
    16,517
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    Bjørn Dæhlie

    Elverum, Norway
    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country...  more
  • Jack Nicklaus18
    19,635
    17,367

    Jack Nicklaus

    Upper Arlington, Ohio
    Jack William Nicklaus, nicknamed "The Golden Bear", is a retired American professional golfer....  more

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  • Blanka Vlašić19
    17,219
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    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
    Blanka Vlašić (Croatian pronunciation: [ˈblaːŋka ˈʋlaʃitɕ]; born 8 November 1983) is a...  more

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  • Martina Navratilova20
    20,655
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    Martina Navratilova

    Prague, Czech Republic
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  • Michael Johnson21
    15,233
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    Michael Johnson

    Dallas, Texas
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  • Mario Lemieux22
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    14,644

    Mario Lemieux

    Montreal, Canada
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  • Peyton Manning23
    11,291
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    Peyton Manning

    New Orleans, Louisiana
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  • Chris Evert24
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    Chris Evert

    Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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  • Zvonimir Boban25
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    Zvonimir Boban

    Imotski, Croatia
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