Which athlete is the world's greatest? First of all, what is the definition of 'greatest'? To excel in their sport, an athlete must have exceptional skills and fitness for that sport. However, this does not mean that they would be successful in any other sport.
The World's Greatest Athlete should be a sports person who is so great that they would excel in any sport they choose to do. Here are some athletes who successfully tried their hand at more than one sport. There would be many that could also have done so, but chose to stay and excel at their chosen sport.
A poll to determine the Greatest Multisport Athlete of All Time was conducted on the ESPN Sport Science website in 2012, and was won by Bo Jackson.
Are these the greatest?
Here are some athletes who have successfully competed in more than one sporting discipline at the highest level. Do you have other suggestions? Use the comment form below.
Great Male Multi Sport Athletes
- Jim Brown — a NFL running back, named in 2002 by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever. However he could potentially have also had a career in basketball, lacrosse, track and field, baseball and boxing. He is the only person to be admitted to the halls of fame for pro football, college football and lacrosse, and was offered a minor-league deal by the New York Yankees. To top it off, he finished fifth in the 1956 national decathlon championship.
- Bo Jackson — played at the highest level of sports in the United States in both NFL and Major League Baseball, and became the first athlete to be named an All-Star in two major sports. Played nine seasons in Major League Baseball and four seasons in NFL. In 1992 Jackson also tried his luck in basketball and he played briefly for a semi-pro team in Los Angeles.
- Carl Crawford — a champion baseballer with incredible speed and skill, though could have equally be successful in basketball and American Football. After high school he was offered a scholarship to play basketball point guard for UCLA, and could easily have signed on at a College team as an option quarterback too.
- Allen Iverson — played NBA, but was also an incredibly gifted football player. He set state records playing for Bethel High School in Virginia, playing everything from quarterback to running back to kick returner.
- Reginald 'Snowy' Baker — Australia's answer to Jim Brown. Snowy was elected to Australia's sporting hall of fame, having competed at state or national level in 29 sports, and represented Australia in Rugby Union, swimming, polo, diving and boxing. He is the only Australian that has competed in three sports at the Olympic Games: Diving, Boxing and Swimming, all in 1908.
- Deion Sanders — a former National Football League cornerback and Major League Baseball outfielder. Played nine seasons in Major League Baseball and 16 seasons in NFL. He is the only pro athlete to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week, and also the only man to play in a World Series and a Super Bowl
- Jim Thorpe — In the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon. Played NFL, he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and played 289 MLB games over six seasons.
- Herschel Walker — Played 13 seasons in the NFL. Member of U.S. Olympic bobsled team at 1992 Winter Olympics. He won back-to-back American Superstars competitions in 1987 and 1988. Had 2-0 career record in mixed martial arts.
- Jaroslav Drobny — played Tennis and Ice-hockey: He won the Wimbledon title in 1954, as well as the French title at Roland Garros twice, and the Italian championship three times. He was also a ice-hockey player. From 1938 to 1949 he played center in the Czechoslovakian ice hockey league, won a gold medal at the 1947 World Ice Hockey Championships and a silver at the 1948 Olympics. He was was inducted in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame in 1997.
Great Female Multi Sport Athletes
- Babe Didrickson Zaharias — At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she won gold in both the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw, and took silver in the high jump. She won 10 golf Majors, including the British Ladies' Amateur and US Open golf tournaments. She was the only woman in history to make the cut in a regular PGA Tour event (which she did three times). She was also an All-American basketball player, tennis player, swimmer, diver, boxer, volleyball player, bowler, skater and cyclist.
- Lottie Dod — At age 15, she became the youngest woman ever to win the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Championship, and went on to win it 4 more times. Played field hockey for England national two years after taking up the sport. She won the British Ladies' Amateur golf tournament in 1904. Won the silver medal in archery at the 1908 Olympics in London.
- Clara Hughes — a Canadian cyclist and speed skater. She is a 6-time Olympian and the only person to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympics.
- Ellyse Perry — an Australian sportswoman who made her debut for both the Australian cricket and soccer teams at the age of 16, and is still currently playing in both the cricket and soccer national teams.
Multiple Event Sports
An athlete does not have to excel in several different sports to show their versatility. There are many sports that require an athlete to be able to excel at a range of sporting challenges, such as the triathlon (swimming, cycling and running), Modern Pentathlon (Shooting, Fencing, Swimming, Riding and Running), Olympic Biathlon (cross-country skiing and rifle shooting) and many other variations of two sports combined (Duathlon, aquathlon etc.). Within some sports there are events that require all-round sporting ability, such as the decathlon (10 events for men) and heptathlon (7 events for women) in track and field. In fact, the world champion decathlete is regularly labeled as the world greatest athlete, and many people will agree that this is rightly so. Some of the great decathletes in history include: Bruce Jenner, Daley Thompson, Jürgen Hingsen and Bryan Clay. Are these the greatest?
- ESPN poll of the Greatest Multisport Athlete of All Time
- Who is the Greatest Athlete of All Time?
- What is the Fittest Sport?
- The ESPN Sport Science poll to determine the Greatest Athlete of All Time.
- All time greatest index of sports
Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- Jim Thorpe was a founding member of the organization that became the NFL and the first HOF entry. Like Bo Jackson, he played both professional football and baseball; unlike Bo he is an NFL HOFer. He also was instrumental in the organization that eventually became the NBA; yes, he was a 3 sport professional athlete. Along with his Olympic accomplishments, the ones mentioned above clearly indicate that no other athlete comes close to him when considering the best athlete. (from Richard Heibel, Sept 2023)
- Bo Jackson is in both Football and Baseball's hall of fame, sorry lazy do rag Deaon. and just look at those records from collage. 10.39 100m/ 9.54 100 yrd, 13.81 110M hurtles, 28' long jump, 78 triple, 50' shot put,147' Discus 8340 plus for a Decathalon score! High jumped 7'! At 250lbs. And holds the record for the 40 at 4. 12 . Heisman trophy, Bo Jackson is the greatest athlete who's ever lived. (from James Hourston, Jan 2022)
- Ken Norton would have been hard to beat in anything. Amanda Nemaric (2016)
- Missing Jaroslav Drobny in the list. Tennis and Ice-hockey: Wimbledon winner and World champion in ice-hockey (scored a goal in the final). Skallagrim (2016)
- How about these: (from Tony Nemaric, Dec 2011)
- Fred Perry was the Wimbledon champion and world table tennis champion.
- Dennis Compton was a brilliant Test cricketer and played in an FA Cup final.
- Charles Burgess Fry, equalled the world record for the long jump, played Rugby for the Barbarians, captained England in football (soccer) and captained England in Test cricket (six successive centuries in six consecutive first class matches).
- Laurence Morgan, invited to play polo for England, bred champion racehorses, and raced them. Played elite level Australian rules football, Heavyweight boxing champion, Olympic gold medalist in 3 day eventing, (at 46 years of age) Kings cup rower, and winner of 22 steeplechase races, from 33 starts.
- Ken Norton, champion track and field athlete in jumps, throws and sprints, and defeated Muhammad Ali in a heavyweight boxing match.