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The Greatest Athletes of All Time

Updated on September 25, 2013
Michael Phelps has won more Olympic gold medals than any other athlete.
Michael Phelps has won more Olympic gold medals than any other athlete. | Source
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs during his career.
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs during his career. | Source
If Michael Jordan was on the court, his team was bound to win championship.
If Michael Jordan was on the court, his team was bound to win championship. | Source
Muhammad won an Olympic gold medal in the Light Heavyweight class in 1960 during the Rome Olympics.
Muhammad won an Olympic gold medal in the Light Heavyweight class in 1960 during the Rome Olympics. | Source

The greatest athletes of all time are not just the athletes who broke the most records or received the most accolades. They were the athletes who left a lasting impression on their sport that was so strong, it changed the sport forever. Deciding who the greatest athletes are could require delving deep into the archives of the Hall of Fame, or simply looking to Wikipedia to break down the numbers. Either way, four athletes who stand out in history as being the greatest athletes of all time are Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps.


Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game of baseball because he was a record breaking home run hitter. Babe hit 714 home runs during his career, a record that stood unchallenged until Hank Aaron surpassed it in 1974. Throughout Babe’s career, he continued to outdo himself until he finally hit a whopping 60 home runs in a single season while playing for the New York Yankees. Babe Ruth’s powerful hitting led the Yankees to four World Series titles, making his contribution so important that when they built Yankee stadium in 1923, they called it “the house that Ruth built.” Since his death, Babe’s name has been used to create the Babe Ruth League, which now serves as a means for more than one million players from ages 4 to 18 to play the magnificent game of baseball.


Muhammad Ali

Before he officially became Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay Jr. was Golden Gloves Champion in 1959 and he won Olympic gold in 1960. For the next decade, Muhammad won all his fights, most of which were by knock out. After his conversion to Islam, Cassius was given his new name, but when he refused to submit to the draft in the late 60‘s, Muhammad was banned from boxing for a short time. He returned to defeat George Foreman using his trademark “rope-a-dope” move, a blasphemous tactic where Ali leans against the ropes, absorbing blows to exhaust his opponent, thus allowing Muhammad to save his energy. Muhammad finished his career 56 and 5 and after retiring, he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in philanthropic efforts.


Michael Jordan

Despite being cut from the high school basketball team his sophomore year because he was too small, Michael Jordan went on to become one of the greatest basketball players in the world. Starting off his career a McDonald’s All American, Michael Jordan took the Olympic basketball team to gold in 1984. He was drafted to the Chicago Bulls shortly after where he led the team to the championships three years in a row. Known mostly for his acrobatic dunks and flying leaps on the court, Michael, a four-time NBA finals MVP, used his stage presence and athletic abilities to single handedly build the Nike brand with the Air Jordan shoe. The Air Jordan continued to sell after his third and final retirement in 2003.


Michael Phelps

Most Olympic swimmers are only amazing performers with one or two swimming strokes, but Michael Phelps could do them all and win. Michael was the youngest American male to enter the Olympics in 2004 at just 15 years old. Then in 2008, he set a record by winning eight Olympic gold medals during a single Olympic event. By the time he retired, he accumulated 22 Olympic medals, 18 of which were gold. He also holds multiple world records in individual swimming events. He may only be 28, but this athlete has accomplished more than most would dream of before the age of 30.


Each of these athletes was not only a dexterous performer, but also a salesman, a marketing expert, philanthropist or team player. Each of them had to overcome some kind of obstacle whether it was age, size, race or health. All of them successfully beat the odds, set records and ultimately used their fame for good. That is why they are the greatest athletes of all time.

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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Sorry to say this but I cannot put any baseball player down as an athlete in comparison with others such as on the list. There's not enough movement apart from him swinging a bat and subsequently running. It's not athletic enough for me to even consider as a full in sport.

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