Sports
2.1k voters

The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 40.7k votes 2.1k voters 19.9k views152 items

List RulesVote 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. 

Photo:
...more
  • Mike Tyson1
    233
    128

    Mike Tyson

    Age: 54

    BirthplaceBedford-Stuyvesant, New York City, New York, United States of America

    Michael Gerard Tyson (born June 30, 1966) is an American former professional boxer who... more on Wikipedia
  • Ole Einar Bjørndalen2

    BirthplaceDrammen, Norway

    Ole Einar Bjørndalen (born 27 January 1974) is a retired Norwegian professional biathlete,... more on Wikipedia
  • Paavo Nurmi3
    343
    220

    Paavo Nurmi

    Dec. at 76 (1897-1973)

    BirthplaceGrand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2... more on Wikipedia
  • Alexander Karelin4
    348
    225

    BirthplaceNovosibirsk, Russia

    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia
  • Ingemar Stenmark5
    281
    174

    BirthplaceJoesjö, Sweden

    Jan Ingemar Stenmark (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈɪŋː(ɛ)mar ²steːnmark]; born 18 March 1956 in... more on Wikipedia

    More Ingemar Stenmark 

    #1262 of 1,355 The Greatest Minds of All Time#21 of 62 The Greatest Alpine Skiers of All Time

  • Jack Nicklaus6
    186
    101

    BirthplaceUpper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

    Jack William Nicklaus, nicknamed "The Golden Bear", is a retired American professional golfer.... more on Wikipedia

    More Jack Nicklaus 

    #24 of 150 Athletes You Didn't Know Were Conservative#2 of 153 The Best Golfers Of All Time

  • George Foreman7
    140
    67

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, USA

    George Edward Foreman (born January 10, 1949) is an American former professional boxer who... more on Wikipedia

    More George Foreman 

    #139 of 269 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World#8 of 178 The Best Boxers of All Time

  • Bjørn Dæhlie8
    197
    117

    BirthplaceElverum, Norway

    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country... more on Wikipedia
  • Sonja Henie9
    256
    166

    Sonja Henie

    Dec. at 57 (1912-1969)

    BirthplaceOslo, Norway

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

    More Sonja Henie 

    #154 of 753 People We Wish Were Still Alive#1 of 41 The Greatest Retired Figure Skaters of All Time

  • Ronaldinho10
    123
    63

    Ronaldinho

    Age: 40

    BirthplacePorto Alegre, Brazil

    Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (born 21 March 1980), commonly known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazilian... more on Wikipedia
  • Wayne Gretzky11
    606
    465

    BirthplaceBrantford, Canada

    Wayne Douglas Gretzky (; born January 26, 1961) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey... more on Wikipedia

    More Wayne Gretzky 

    #1 of 502 The Best NHL Players of All Time#13 of 82 Celebrities You Think Are The Most Humble

  • Boris Becker12
    201
    129

    BirthplaceLeimen, Germany

    Boris Franz Becker (German pronunciation: [ˈboːʁɪs ˈbɛkɐ]; born 22 November 1967) is a German... more on Wikipedia

    More Boris Becker 

    #5 of 216 The Greatest Men's Tennis Players of All Time#11 of 83 The Greatest Male Tennis Players of the Open Era

  • Annika Sörenstam13
    167
    101

    BirthplaceBro, Sweden, Sweden

    Annika Sörenstam (pronounced [ˈanːɪka ²sœːrɛnˌstam] (listen); born 9 October 1970) is a... more on Wikipedia
  • Maria Sharapova14
    161
    98

    BirthplaceNyagan, Russia

    Maria Yuryevna Sharapova (Russian: Мари́я Ю́рьевна Шара́пова, IPA: [mɐˈrʲijə ˈjʉrʲjɪvnə... more on Wikipedia

    More Maria Sharapova 

    #332 of 583 The Greatest Entertainers of All Time#72 of 87 The Best Female Celebrity Role Models

  • Marit Bjørgen15
    214
    145

    Marit Bjørgen

    Age: 40

    BirthplaceTrondheim, Norway

    Marit Bjørgen (born 21 March 1980) is a retired Norwegian cross-country skier. She is ranked... more on Wikipedia
  • Kobe Bryant16
    579
    462

    Kobe Bryant

    Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

    BirthplacePhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    Kobe Bean Bryant (August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020) was an American professional basketball... more on Wikipedia

    More Kobe Bryant 

    The 100 Best Songs That Reference Kobe Bryant24 Touching Tributes To Kobe Bryant From Across The World

  • Johan Cruijff17
    96
    49

    BirthplaceAmsterdam, Netherlands

    Hendrik Johannes Cruijff OON (Dutch: [ˈjoːɦɑn ˈkrœyf] (listen), internationally spelled... more on Wikipedia

    More Johan Cruijff 

    #26 of 1,816 The Best Athletes Of All Time#13 of 1,310 The Best Soccer Players of All Time

  • Arne Borg18
    136
    84

    Arne Borg

    Dec. at 86 (1901-1987)

    BirthplaceStockholm, Sweden

    Claes Arne Borg (18 August 1901 – 7 November 1987) was a Swedish swimmer. He is best known for... more on Wikipedia
  • Miguel Indurain19
    90
    44

    BirthplaceNavarre, Spain

    Miguel Induráin Larraya (Spanish pronunciation: [miˈɣel induˈɾain laˈraʝa]; born 16 July 1964)... more on Wikipedia
  • Steffi Graf20
    507
    413

    BirthplaceMannheim, Germany

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

    More Steffi Graf 

    #14 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models#57 of 143 Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

  • Ronaldo21
    69
    27

    Ronaldo

    Age: 44

    BirthplaceRio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Ronaldo is a Portuguese and Spanish equivalent of the name Ronald. Notable people known as... more on Wikipedia
  • Oliver Kahn22
    108
    61

    BirthplaceKarlsruhe, Germany

    Oliver Rolf Kahn (German: [ˈɔlɪvɐ ˈkaːn]; born 15 June 1969) is a German former football... more on Wikipedia

    More Oliver Kahn 

    #222 of 403 Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person#36 of 164 The Best Soccer Players of the '90s

  • Ayrton Senna23
    89
    44

    Ayrton Senna

    Dec. at 34 (1960-1994)
    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960... more on Wikipedia
  • Alexander Ovechkin24
    135
    86

    BirthplaceMoscow, Russia

    Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin (Russian: Александр Михайлович Овечкин, IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr... more on Wikipedia
  • Florence Griffith Joyner25
    83
    40

    Florence Griffith Joyner

    Dec. at 39 (1959-1998)

    BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, United States of America

    Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner (born Florence Delorez Griffith; December 21, 1959 –... more on Wikipedia