Influential The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time  

Ranker Sports
25.6k votes 1.6k voters 11.7k views 154 items

List Rules Vote up the athletes who changed their sport forever, bringing major contributions each time they performed.

The most influential athletes of all time aren't just the best stars from their respective sports, but some of the most iconic individuals in the sports world. Whether they broke countless records or changed the way we all look at a specific sport, they influenced generations to come and will always be remembered at the top of their class. So, who do you think are the most influential athletes ever?

No matter the sport or discipline, these top athletes are true icons. Whether you're talking the New York Yankees great Babe Ruth or NBA GOAT Michael Jordan, the athletes listed here are far from your average sports stars. Take the legendary Deion Sanders, for example. Not only is he considered an NFL great, he's also an established professional baseball player—proving he's one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time. While he's a rare case in terms of athletes, others on this list of influential sports stars have contributed greatly to their sport. 

Now, check out the list of athletes below and vote up your favorites for the most influential of all time. You can also vote athletes down, as well as add other sports icons to the list. 

list ordered by
1
143 12
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 51
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin is a Hero of the Russian Federation and retired Greco-Roman wrestler for the Soviet Union and Russia. Nicknamed the "Russian Bear", "Russian King ...more
2
120 8
Ole Einar Bjørndalen is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 45
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is a biathlete.
3
136 11
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added Dec. at 76 (1897-1973)
Paavo Johannes Nurmi was a Finnish middle- and long-distance runner. He was nicknamed the "Flying Finn" as he dominated distance running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 ...more
4
124 12
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 62
Jan Ingemar Stenmark, born 18 March 1956 in Joesjö, Sweden, is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Sweden. He is regarded as one of the most prominent Swedish sportsmen, and as the ...more
5
126 13
Sonja Henie is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added Dec. at 57 (1912-1969)
Sonja Henie was a Norwegian figure skater and film star. She was a three-time Olympic Champion in Ladies' Singles, a ten-time World Champion and a six-time European Champion. Henie won more ...more
6
115 12
Marit Bjørgen is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 38
Marit Bjørgen is a Norwegian cross-country skier and six times Olympic champion from Midtre Gauldal, Norway. She is ranked first in the all-time Cross-Country World Cup rankings with ...more
7
95 10
Boris Becker is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 51
Boris Franz Becker is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player from Germany. He is a six-time Grand Slam singles champion, including the distinction of being the youngest ever Wimbledon ...more
8
82 8
Birgit Fischer is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 57
Birgit Fischer is a German kayaker, who has won eight gold medals over six different Olympic Games, a record she shares with Aladár Gerevich, spanning seven Olympiads: twice representing ...more
9
71 11
Lidia Skoblikova is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 79
Lidiya Pavlovna Skoblikova is a retired Russian speed skater and coach. Representing the USSR Olympic team during the Olympic Winter Games in 1960 and 1964, she won a total of six gold medals, ...more
10
72 12
Maria Sharapova is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 31
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is a Russian professional tennis player, who as of October 6, 2014 is ranked world No. 2 by the Women's Tennis Association. A United States resident since 1994, ...more
11
335 235
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 49
Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf is a German former world No. 1 tennis player. Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Her 22 singles titles is second all time behind Margaret Court, and ...more
12
68 11
Boris Shakhlin is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added Dec. at 76 (1932-2008)
Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin was a Soviet gymnast who was the 1960 Olympic all-around champion and the 1958 all-around World Champion. He won total of 13 medals including seven gold medals at the ...more
13
65 10
Alexander Ovechkin is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 30
Alexander Mikhailovich "Alex" Ovechkin is a Russian professional ice hockey winger and captain of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League. Prior to playing in the NHL, ...more
14
64 10
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 52
Michael Gerard "Mike" Tyson is an American retired professional boxer. Tyson is a former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win ...more
15
76 18
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 48
Annika Sörenstam is a Swedish retired professional golfer whose achievements rank her as one of the most successful female golfers in history. Before stepping away from competitive golf at ...more
16
69 13
Alexander Vladimirovich Popov is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 47
Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov; is a Russian former Olympic gold-winning swimmer regarded as one of the greatest sprint freestyle swimmers of all time, and the only swimmer in history, male or ...more
17
71 16
Arne Borg is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added Dec. at 86 (1901-1987)
Claes Arne Borg was a Swedish swimmer. He is best known for breaking 32 world records and winning five Olympic medals in the 1920s. In 1926 Borg won the Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal, shared with ...more
18
71 18
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 79
Jack William Nicklaus, nicknamed "The Golden Bear", is a retired American professional golfer. He is widely regarded as the greatest professional golfer of all time, winning a total of ...more
19
51 7
Laure Manaudou is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 32
Laure Manaudou is a retired French Olympic, world and European champion swimmer. She has held the world record in freestyle events between 200 and 1500 meter. She is the daughter of a French ...more
20
53 8
Petra Kronberger is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 50
Petra Kronberger is an Austrian former alpine skier, who participated in all disciplines. She was the first female alpine skier who managed to win in all five World Cup events.
21
53 8
Betty Cuthbert is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 80
Elizabeth Cuthbert AM, MBE is an Australian athlete, and a fourfold Olympic champion. During her career, she set world records for 60 metres, 100 yards, 200 metres, 220 yards and 440 yards. ...more
22
47 6
Elisabeta Lipă is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 54
Elisabeta Lipă is a retired rower from Romania. She is the most decorated rower in the history of the Olympics, winning five gold, two silver and one bronze medals. She holds the record amongst ...more
23
55 9
Laura Dahlmeier is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 25
Laura Dahlmeier is a German biathlete. Dahlmeier started in her first world cup races in the 2012/13-season. In 2014 she participated in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. She was officially ...more
24
64 17
Pirmin Zurbriggen is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 56
Pirmin Zurbriggen is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Switzerland. One of the most successful ski racers ever, he won the overall World Cup title four times, an Olympic gold medal in ...more
25
54 9
Tine Baun is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Tattoo added age 39
Tine Baun is a female former badminton player from Denmark. Most notably, she won the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championships women's singles title three times in 2008, 2010, and ...more