Sports
132.2k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 132.2k 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
    46,497
    29,737

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an...  more
  • Carl Lewis2
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    16,212

    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
    33,704
    26,068

    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
    23,445
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    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine retired...  more
  • LeBron James8
    43,007
    31,075

    LeBron James

    Akron, Ohio
    LeBron Raymone James Sr. (; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball...  more

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  • Ayrton Senna9
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    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960...  more
  • Zvonimir Boban10
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    Zvonimir Boban

    Imotski, Croatia
    Zvonimir Boban (Croatian pronunciation: [zʋônimiːr bǒban] (listen); born 8 October 1968) is a...  more

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  • Blanka Vlašić11
    17,310
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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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  • Lionel Messi12
    43,516
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    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
    Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾez ˈmesi] (listen); born...  more
  • Babe Ruth13
    37,338
    25,278

    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
    George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948) was an American...  more

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  • Larry Bird14
    19,658
    15,090

    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
    Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player,...  more
  • Janica Kostelić15
    16,284
    13,566

    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
    Janica Kostelić (Croatian pronunciation: [janitsa kǒstelitɕ]; born 5 January 1982) is a former...  more
  • Martina Navratilova16
    20,737
    13,609

    Martina Navratilova

    Prague, Czech Republic
    Martina Navratilova (Czech: Martina Navrátilová pronounced [mar'cɪna navˈraːcɪlovaː]; born...  more

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  • Jesse Owens17
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    Jesse Owens

    Oakville, Alabama
    James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and...  more
  • Michael Johnson18
    15,270
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    Michael Johnson

    Dallas, Texas
    Michael Duane Johnson (born September 13, 1967) is a retired American sprinter who won four...  more
  • Wilt Chamberlain19
    25,761
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    Wilt Chamberlain

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Wilton Norman Chamberlain (; August 21, 1936 – October 12, 1999) was an American basketball...  more

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  • Bjørn Dæhlie20
    16,644
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    Bjørn Dæhlie

    Elverum, Norway
    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country...  more
  • Paavo Nurmi21
    17,074
    15,108

    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2...  more
  • Monica Seles22
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    Monica Seles

    Novi Sad, Serbia
    Monica Seles (; Hungarian: Szeles Mónika, pronounced [ˈsɛlɛʃ ˈmoːnikɒ]; Serbian: Моника Селеш,...  more

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  • Niki Lauda23
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    Niki Lauda

    Vienna, Austria
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  • Lou Gehrig24
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    Lou Gehrig

    Yorkville, New York City
    Henry Louis Gehrig (born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig; June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941) was an American...  more
  • Michael Schumacher25
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    Michael Schumacher

    Hürth, Germany
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