Sports
130.8k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 130.8k 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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  • 1
    Muhammad Ali
    46,245
    29,088

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an... more on Wikipedia
  • 2
    Paavo Nurmi
    17,036
    14,531

    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2... more on Wikipedia
  • 3
    Alexander Karelin
    17,638
    15,084

    Alexander Karelin

    Novosibirsk, Russia
    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia
  • 4
    Carl Lewis
    24,394
    15,925

    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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  • 5
    Steffi Graf
    18,966
    16,288

    Steffi Graf

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

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  • 6
    Roger Federer
    33,508
    25,498

    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
    ← Roger Federer (German pronunciation: [ˈrɔdʒər ˈfeːdərər]; born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    Usain Bolt
    34,319
    25,233

    Usain Bolt

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

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  • 8
    Michael Jordan
    51,288
    28,339

    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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  • 9
    Björn Borg
    16,071
    14,038

    Björn Borg

    Stockholm, Sweden
    Björn Rune Borg (Swedish pronunciation: [bjœːɳ bɔrj] (listen); born 6 June 1956) is a Swedish... more on Wikipedia

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  • 10
    Michael Phelps
    41,059
    25,283

    Michael Phelps

    Towson, Baltimore
    Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American retired competitive swimmer and the... more on Wikipedia
  • 11
    Diego Maradona
    22,802
    14,080

    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈdjeɣo maɾaˈðona], born 30 October 1960) is an... more on Wikipedia
  • 12
    LeBron James
    42,787
    30,476

    LeBron James

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

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  • 13
    Blanka Vlašić
    17,270
    14,864

    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
    Blanka Vlašić (Croatian pronunciation: [ˈblaːŋka ˈʋlaʃitɕ]; born 8 November 1983) is a... more on Wikipedia
  • 14
    Pelé
    29,846
    26,284

    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu];... more on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Zvonimir Boban
    16,889
    14,322

    Zvonimir Boban

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

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  • 16
    Paula Radcliffe
    16,762
    14,720

    Paula Radcliffe

    Davenham, United Kingdom
    Paula Jane Radcliffe, MBE (born 17 December 1973) is a British long-distance runner. She is a... more on Wikipedia
  • 17
    Ayrton Senna
    18,227
    14,554
    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960... more on Wikipedia
  • 18
    Lionel Messi
    43,298
    27,001

    Lionel Messi

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

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  • 19
    Babe Ruth
    37,227
    24,761

    Babe Ruth

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

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  • 20
    Michael Schumacher
    19,337
    17,061

    Michael Schumacher

    Hürth, Germany
    Michael Schumacher (born 3 January 1969) is a retired German racing driver who raced in... more on Wikipedia

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  • 21
    Sonja Henie
    15,693
    13,828

    Sonja Henie

    Oslo, Norway
    Sonja Henie (8 April 1912 – 12 October 1969) was a Norwegian figure skater and film star. She... more on Wikipedia
  • 22
    Larry Bird
    19,561
    14,564

    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
    Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player,... more on Wikipedia

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  • 23
    Wilt Chamberlain
    25,654
    22,576

    Wilt Chamberlain

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

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  • 24
    Nadia Comăneci
    18,149
    16,018

    Nadia Comăneci

    Onești, Romania
    Nadia Elena Comăneci (UK: , US: , Romanian: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnetʃʲ] (listen); born 12 November... more on Wikipedia

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  • 25
    Janica Kostelić
    15,807
    13,483

    Janica Kostelić

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