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The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 39.3k votes 2.1k voters 20.2k 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. 

  • Mike Tyson1

    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

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  • Ole Einar Bjørndalen2

    BirthplaceDrammen, Norway

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

    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
  • Ingemar Stenmark4

    BirthplaceJoesjö, Sweden

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

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    #20 of 62 The Greatest Alpine Skiers of All Time#1 of 205 The Best Olympic Athletes from Sweden

  • Alexander Karelin5

    BirthplaceNovosibirsk, Russia

    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September...  more

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  • George Foreman6

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, USA

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

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  • Jack Nicklaus7

    BirthplaceUpper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

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

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    #24 of 150 Athletes You Didn't Know Were Conservative#2 of 162 The Best Golfers Of All Time

  • Wayne Gretzky8

    BirthplaceBrantford, Canada

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

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  • Bjørn Dæhlie9

    BirthplaceElverum, Norway

    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country...  more
  • Sonja Henie10

    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

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    #2 of 43 The Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time#1 of 41 The Greatest Retired Figure Skaters of All Time

  • Ronaldinho11


    Age: 40

    BirthplacePorto Alegre, Brazil

    Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (born 21 March 1980), commonly known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazilian...  more

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  • Maria Sharapova12

    BirthplaceNyagan, Russia

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

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  • Annika Sörenstam13

    BirthplaceBro, Sweden, Sweden

    Annika Sörenstam (pronounced [ˈanːɪka ²sœːrɛnˌstam] (listen); born 9 October 1970) is a...  more

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  • Boris Becker14

    BirthplaceLeimen, Germany

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

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  • Marit Bjørgen15

    Marit Bjørgen

    Age: 40

    BirthplaceTrondheim, Norway

    Marit Bjørgen (born 21 March 1980) is a retired Norwegian cross-country skier. She is ranked...  more
  • Johan Cruijff16

    BirthplaceAmsterdam, Netherlands

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

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    #13 of 1,310 The Best Soccer Players of All Time#43 of 1,427 The Best Athletes Of All Time

  • Larry Bird17

    Larry Bird

    Age: 63

    BirthplaceWest Baden Springs, French Lick Township, Indiana, United States of America

    Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player,...  more

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  • Steffi Graf18

    BirthplaceMannheim, Germany

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

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    #18 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models#4 of 72 The Greatest Women's Tennis Players of All Time

  • Mika Häkkinen19

    BirthplaceVantaa, Finland

    Mika Pauli Häkkinen (Finnish: [ˈmikɑ ˈhækːinen] (listen); born 28 September 1968), nicknamed...  more
  • Kobe Bryant20

    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

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  • Babe Ruth21

    Babe Ruth

    Dec. at 53 (1895-1948)

    BirthplacePigtown, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America

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

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    #34 of 39 Longest Hitting Streaks in Baseball#529 of 2,443 The Most Influential People of All Time

  • Arne Borg22

    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
  • Ronaldo23


    Age: 44

    BirthplaceRio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Ronaldo is a Portuguese and Spanish equivalent of the name Ronald. Notable people known as...  more

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  • Miguel Indurain24

    BirthplaceNavarre, Spain

    Miguel Induráin Larraya (Spanish pronunciation: [miˈɣel induˈɾain laˈraʝa]; born 16 July 1964)...  more
  • Ayrton Senna25

    Ayrton Senna

    Dec. at 34 (1960-1994)
    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960...  more

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