133.1k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated February 22, 2021 32.5m votes 133.1k 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

    Muhammad Ali

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

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  • Lorenzo Bernardi2

    Lorenzo Bernardi

    Trento, Italy
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  • Carl Lewis3

    Carl Lewis

    Birmingham, Alabama
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  • Usain Bolt4

    Usain Bolt

    Sherwood Content, Jamaica
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  • Roger Federer5

    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
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  • Michael Jordan6

    Michael Jordan

    New York City, New York
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    Novosibirsk, Russia
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    Towson, Baltimore
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    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
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    Akron, Ohio
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  • Pelé11


    Três Corações, Brazil
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    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
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    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
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  • Lionel Messi15

    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
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  • Franz Beckenbauer16

    Franz Beckenbauer

    Munich, Germany
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    Steffi Graf

    Mannheim, Germany
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    Björn Borg

    Stockholm, Sweden
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    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
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    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
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  • Maria Sharapova21

    Maria Sharapova

    Nyagan, Russia
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    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
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    Chris Evert

    Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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    Paula Radcliffe

    Davenham, United Kingdom
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    Nadia Comăneci

    Onești, Romania
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