Sports
131.9k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 131.9k voters 1.0m views1.8k 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
    46,447
    29,604

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an... more on Wikipedia
  • Carl Lewis2
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    16,142

    Carl Lewis

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

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  • Usain Bolt3
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    Sherwood Content, Jamaica
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  • Roger Federer4
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    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
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  • Michael Jordan5
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    Michael Jordan

    New York City, New York
    Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials MJ, is an American... more on Wikipedia

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  • Michael Phelps6
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    Towson, Baltimore
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  • Alexander Karelin7
    17,708
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    Alexander Karelin

    Novosibirsk, Russia
    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia

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  • Diego Maradona8
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    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine retired... more on Wikipedia
  • LeBron James9
    42,954
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    LeBron James

    Akron, Ohio
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  • Paavo Nurmi10
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    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2... more on Wikipedia
  • Blanka Vlašić11
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    Blanka Vlašić

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

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  • Zvonimir Boban12
    16,918
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    Zvonimir Boban

    Imotski, Croatia
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  • Ayrton Senna13
    18,275
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  • Steffi Graf14
    18,996
    16,788

    Steffi Graf

    Mannheim, Germany
    Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtɛfiː ˈɡʁaːf]; born 14 June 1969) is a... more on Wikipedia
  • Lionel Messi15
    43,477
    27,441

    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
    Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾez ˈmesi] (listen); born... more on Wikipedia
  • Babe Ruth16
    37,313
    25,174

    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
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  • Larry Bird17
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    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
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  • Janica Kostelić18
    16,191
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    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
    Janica Kostelić (Croatian pronunciation: [janitsa kǒstelitɕ]; born 5 January 1982) is a former... more on Wikipedia
  • Martina Navratilova19
    20,727
    13,594

    Martina Navratilova

    Prague, Czech Republic
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  • Bjørn Dæhlie20
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    Bjørn Dæhlie

    Elverum, Norway
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  • Wilt Chamberlain21
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    Wilt Chamberlain

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Michael Johnson22
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    Michael Johnson

    Dallas, Texas
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  • Jesse Owens23
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    Jesse Owens

    Oakville, Alabama
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  • Pelé24
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    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu];... more on Wikipedia
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    Chris Evert

    Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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