Sports
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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. 

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  • 1
    Mike Tyson
    229
    116

    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
    138
    57

    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
    184
    91

    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
    342
    213

    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
    280
    168

    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
    346
    218

    BirthplaceNovosibirsk, Russia

    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia
  • 8
    Bjørn Dæhlie
    197
    110

    BirthplaceElverum, Norway

    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country... more on Wikipedia
  • 9
    Sonja Henie
    254
    159

    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
    Ronaldinho
    120
    58

    Ronaldinho

    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
    198
    123

    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
    164
    97

    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
    160
    93

    BirthplaceNyagan, Russia

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

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  • 14
    Wayne Gretzky
    603
    462

    BirthplaceBrantford, Canada

    Wayne Douglas Gretzky (; born January 26, 1961) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey... more on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Marit Bjørgen
    212
    141

    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
    576
    459

    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
    106
    55

    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
    90
    41

    BirthplaceNavarre, Spain

    Miguel Induráin Larraya (Spanish pronunciation: [miˈɣel induˈɾain laˈraʝa]; born 16 July 1964)... more on Wikipedia
  • 19
    Johan Cruijff
    94
    46

    BirthplaceAmsterdam, Netherlands

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

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    #17 of 1,310 The Best Soccer Players of All Time#79 of 1,816 The Best Athletes Of All Time

  • 20
    Arne Borg
    133
    81

    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
    135
    83

    BirthplaceMoscow, Russia

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

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  • 22
    Steffi Graf
    507
    408

    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
    115
    67

    BirthplaceSaas-Almagell, Switzerland

    Pirmin Zurbriggen (born 4 February 1963) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from... more on Wikipedia
  • 24
    Ayrton Senna
    88
    43

    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
    142
    92

    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