Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time

Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time

Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

This is an impossible question to answer because everyone has different opinions, and depending on where you are from and which sports you follow, these opinions will vary even more.

One company, the TopTens, has tried to answer this age-old question via an ongoing fan vote in which the standings can change at any point. As of this moment, the list of the top 25 contains some of the biggest names to ever grace sport such as Muhammad Ali, Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few.

TheTopTens are a website that provides fan-based rankings for almost any criteria you can think of from video games to car insurance, but this particular poll is certainly one of their more debatable.

Before we begin our countdown from 25-1, it is first important to clarify the criteria for greatest athlete.

As defined by TheTopTens, a great athlete is defined as ‘possessing a variety of attributes that contribute to athletic prowess. These include speed, quickness, endurance, power and hand-eye coordination.’

Who are the greatest athletes in history?

25. Kobe Bryant

In at number 25 is basketball legend Kobe Bryant. During his 20-year career, Bryant won five NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 21: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the second quarter against the Utah Jazz in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 21, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

24. Magic Johnson

At number 24 is another basketball and Lakers legend in Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson Jr, who also won five Championships during his career.

23. Jerry Rice

Number 23 is NFL legend Jerry Rice. Rice is widely considered to be the best wide receiver of all time and holds some of the most ridiculous records in the sport. He is also a three-time Super Bowl winner.

22. Gordie Howe

At 22 is our first ice hockey player in Canadian Gordie Howe. During a 34-year career, Howe scored 801 goals, assisted 1,049 times and had a career total of 1,850 points. These were all NHL records at the time of his retirement in 1980.

21. Jim Brown

Widely considered one of the greatest running backs of all time, Jim Brown is at 21. During his career in the 50s and 60s, Brown carried the ball 2,359 times for 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns, which were all records when he retired.

1 of 20
Juliano Belletti

We’ll start with an easy one to kick off. Who is this World Cup winner?

20. Wilt Chamberlain

At 20 is Wilt Chamberlian, who won two NBA titles during his career. He also holds the record for most points in a single game with 100.

19. Bobby Orr

Another Canadian ice hockey great, Bobby Orr revolutionised the position of defenceman and is widely considered one of the all-time greats.

18. Tiger Woods

During his career, Tiger Woods has won 18 World Golf Championships.

17. Bruce Lee

The martial artist and actor is a true 20th century pop culture icon and a legend of his field.

16. Lionel Messi

Our first footballer on this list. Truly an alien of the sport, the Argentine holds a ridiculous number of records including the record for most goals in a calendar year with 91. He has won the Ballon d’Or seven times.

Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 16: Leo Messi of Argentina in action during the international friendly between United Arab Emirates and Argentina on November 16, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Martin Dokoupil/Getty Images)

15. Tom Brady

At 15 is legendary quarterback Tom Brady. During his career he has won a ridiculous seven Super Bowls.

14. Cristiano Ronaldo

Perhaps controversially above his great rival Messi, Ronaldo has certainly earned his place on this list. He has done it all, winning leagues and Champions Leagues wherever he has played and scoring endless goals.

13. Jesse Owens

The star of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens won four gold medals at the competition in front of the National Socialist government and became a legend. He also broke a number of world records during his career.

12. LeBron James

James has won four NBA championships during his career and is frequently compared to the greatest of the sport.

Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 08: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate his basket and LA Clippers foul during a 112-103 Lakers win at Staples Center on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

11. Joe Montana

Another iconic NFL quarterback, Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl final, winning four during a stellar career.

Who are the 10 greatest athletes of all time?

10. Roger Federer

The one and only tennis player on this list, the Swiss has truly won everything in the world of tennis. He has won 20 Grand Slams during his career.

9. Pelé

Widely considered the greatest of all time, Pelé is about as iconic as it gets in the world of football. During his career he scored an extraordinary number of goals and won three World Cups with Brazil.

8. Bo Jackson

It is difficult enough to become a great in one sport, but Bo Jackson managed this feat in two. He is the only athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both American football and baseball.

Ronaldo, Ali, Bolt, Messi, Federer, Woods: 25 greatest athletes of all time
Bo Jackson #34, Full Back for the Los Angeles Raiders during the American Football Conference West game against the Kansas City Chiefs on 15 October 1989 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California, United States. The Raiders won the game 20 – 14. (Photo by Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images)

7. Jim Thorpe

Thorpe was the first Native American to win gold for the US. He also played American football and baseball professionally along with basketball.

6. Babe Ruth

The iconic baseball player began his career as a star pitcher before later truly making his name as a big-hitting outfielder. He hit 714 home runs in a fantastic career.

5. Michael Phelps

At five is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals to his name, 23 of which are gold.

4. Usain Bolt

Touted as the fastest man alive, Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medallist, holding world records for the 100m, the 200m and 4x100m relay.

3. Wayne Gretsky

Widely considered the greatest ice hockey player ever, the Canadian held a whopping 61 NHL records at the time of his retirement in 1999.

2. Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali
British Heavyweight champion Henry Cooper (1934 – 2011, left) with American boxer Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) after their non-title fight at Wembley Stadium, London, 18th June 1963. Clay won the match by a technical knockout after Cooper sustained a cut under his left eye. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

No greatest list would be complete without Muhammad Ali. He transcended the world of boxing and is iconic not just for his sporting ability, but also for his actions outside the ring.

1. Michael Jordan

Finally, ranked at number one in this list is basketball legend Michael Jordan. During his 15 seasons in the NBA, Jordan won six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan had averages of 30.12 points per game for the regular season and a playoff scoring average of 33.45 points per game. Both are NBA records.

So, that’s the list. 25 of the greatest athletes to ever grace the planet as ranked by fans.

There are plenty of controversies within this list and perhaps the inclusion of so many American athletes indicates that this is an American website. That said, there can be no arguments as to the iconic status of all those included.

You can find all of the latest athletics news and rumours right here.

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