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The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 40.2k votes 2.1k voters 19.8k 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. 

  • 1
    Mike Tyson

    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

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  • 2
    George Foreman

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, United States of America

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

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  • 3
    Jack Nicklaus

    BirthplaceUpper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

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

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  • 4
    Ole Einar Bjørndalen

    BirthplaceDrammen, Norway

    Ole Einar Bjørndalen (born 27 January 1974) is a retired Norwegian professional biathlete,... more on Wikipedia
  • 5
    Paavo Nurmi

    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
  • 6
    Ingemar Stenmark

    BirthplaceJoesjö, Sweden

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

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  • 7
    Alexander Karelin

    BirthplaceNovosibirsk, Russia

    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia
  • 8
    Bjørn Dæhlie

    BirthplaceElverum, Norway

    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country... more on Wikipedia
  • 9
    Sonja Henie

    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
  • 10


    Age: 40

    BirthplacePorto Alegre, Brazil

    Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (born 21 March 1980), commonly known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazilian... more on Wikipedia
  • 11
    Boris Becker

    BirthplaceLeimen, Germany

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

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  • 12
    Annika Sörenstam

    BirthplaceBro, Sweden, Sweden

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

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  • 13
    Maria Sharapova

    BirthplaceNyagan, Russia

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

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  • 14
    Wayne Gretzky

    BirthplaceBrantford, Canada

    Wayne Douglas Gretzky (; born January 26, 1961) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey... more on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Marit Bjørgen

    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
  • 16
    Kobe Bryant

    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

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  • 17
    Oliver Kahn

    BirthplaceKarlsruhe, Germany

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

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  • 18
    Miguel Indurain

    BirthplaceNavarre, Spain

    Miguel Induráin Larraya (Spanish pronunciation: [miˈɣel induˈɾain laˈraʝa]; born 16 July 1964)... more on Wikipedia
  • 19
    Johan Cruijff

    BirthplaceAmsterdam, Netherlands

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

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  • 20
    Arne Borg

    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
  • 21
    Alexander Ovechkin

    BirthplaceMoscow, Russia

    Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin (Russian: Александр Михайлович Овечкин, IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr... more on Wikipedia

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  • 22
    Steffi Graf

    BirthplaceMannheim, Germany

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

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  • 23
    Pirmin Zurbriggen

    BirthplaceSaas-Almagell, Switzerland

    Pirmin Zurbriggen (born 4 February 1963) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from... more on Wikipedia
  • 24
    Ayrton Senna

    Ayrton Senna

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

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  • 25
    Birgit Fischer

    BirthplaceBrandenburg an der Havel, Germany

    Birgit Fischer (born 25 February 1962) is a German kayaker, who has won eight gold medals over... more on Wikipedia