Sports
130.7k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 130.7k 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
    46,225
    29,031

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an... more on Wikipedia
  • 2
    Alexander Karelin
    17,631
    15,023

    Alexander Karelin

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

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  • 3
    Paavo Nurmi
    17,031
    14,469

    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2... more on Wikipedia
  • 4
    Steffi Graf
    18,959
    16,230

    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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  • 5
    Carl Lewis
    24,347
    15,907

    Carl Lewis

    Birmingham, Alabama
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  • 6
    Roger Federer
    33,489
    25,447

    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
    ← Roger Federer (German pronunciation: [ˈrɔdʒər ˈfeːdərər]; born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    Usain Bolt
    34,302
    25,187

    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
    51,262
    28,289

    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
    16,063
    13,988

    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
    41,043
    25,238

    Michael Phelps

    Towson, Baltimore
    Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American retired competitive swimmer and the... more on Wikipedia
  • 11
    Paula Radcliffe
    16,760
    14,669

    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
  • 12
    Diego Maradona
    22,745
    14,074

    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈdjeɣo maɾaˈðona], born 30 October 1960) is an... more on Wikipedia
  • 13
    Blanka Vlašić
    17,270
    14,836

    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
    Blanka Vlašić (Croatian pronunciation: [ˈblaːŋka ˈʋlaʃitɕ]; born 8 November 1983) is a... more on Wikipedia
  • 14
    LeBron James
    42,774
    30,423

    LeBron James

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

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  • 15
    Pelé
    29,833
    26,236

    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu];... more on Wikipedia
  • 16
    Zvonimir Boban
    16,889
    14,297

    Zvonimir Boban

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

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  • 17
    Ayrton Senna
    18,217
    14,545
    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960... more on Wikipedia
  • 18
    Michael Schumacher
    19,323
    17,013

    Michael Schumacher

    Hürth, Germany
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  • 19
    Sonja Henie
    15,691
    13,779

    Sonja Henie

    Oslo, Norway
    Sonja Henie (8 April 1912 – 12 October 1969) was a Norwegian figure skater and film star. She... more on Wikipedia

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  • 20
    Lionel Messi
    43,287
    26,954

    Lionel Messi

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

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  • 21
    Babe Ruth
    37,218
    24,708

    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
    George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948) was an American... more on Wikipedia
  • 22
    Yelena Isinbayeva
    16,531
    14,574

    Yelena Isinbayeva

    Volgograd, Russia
    Yelena Gadzhievna Isinbayeva (Russian: Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева, IPA: [jɪˈlʲɛnə gɐˈdʐɨjɪvnə... more on Wikipedia

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  • 23
    Nadia Comăneci
    18,144
    15,971

    Nadia Comăneci

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

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  • 24
    Larry Bird
    19,551
    14,516

    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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  • 25
    Wilt Chamberlain
    25,644
    22,528

    Wilt Chamberlain

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

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