The best. The greatest. The greatest ever. Number one. Unbeatable. Unstoppable. Rude. Petrifying. Dominating. Owning. IMMORTAL.
Each of the words above can easily describe those individuals who are a part of the exclusive club of the sports elite. I am not just talking about those that have the most titles, the best stats, or played in the most opportune time (although most, if not all, of the persons in this club encompass these traits). I am talking about those people that have created a their own level of game in his/her respective sport. People that have gone above and beyond the normal superstar. Individuals that have changed the game. Individuals that have created such ‘O My God’ moments that most of us have lost count. People who have simply slowed down time with last minute, sudden death, clutch moments!
These are the people that make sports. These are the people that create fans. These are the people that change the world outside of his/her sports. These are the THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.
Before I continue with my list of the top 10 athletes in the world, a few notes. First, since it is nearly impossible to compare individuals across sports, I split the list between individual and team sports (5 and 5 each, in 2 separate parts). Second, I chose to do just men on this list (I do not have sufficient knowledge to comment on women’s sports…although if a reader is more knowledgeable on the matter, please feel free to comment). Third, the sports players in each list are not ordered in anyway, they are simply in the top 5. Fourth, my list is slightly biased for the modern era (1900s+). Lastly, this article is completely subjective. It is written to encourage discussion, so please comment on your own top ten list below.
Part 1: Individual
Federer (of Switzerland) is the most decorated male tennis player in the history of the sport. Winning his first title in 2003, Federer has since gone on to attain 16 titles. He has completed a Grand Slam and was at the number 1 spot for men’s singles tennis for 237 consecutive weeks. He is only 1 week less than gaining the most weeks at number 1 for all time (behind Pete Sampras at 286 since January 2011). He has truly dominated his sport and is one of the most recognized faces across the globe. Definitely in the top 5 of all time (and shout out to SheilaKiJawani for stats).
Challengers for the title: Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal.
The current holder for most cycling titles is Eddy Merckx with 11 grand tour wins. However, Merckx has been implemented 3 times for doping (once where he was caught red-handed and admitted to using for a race). Lance Armstrong has never been ‘caught’ for using performance enhancing drugs (and hopefully will continue his innocence). As such, Armstrong’s 7 Tour de France wins are phenomenal (with 22 stage wins). That is a total of over 14,000 miles in 147 days on a BICYCLE (roughly 95 miles a day)! The man is a machine who can dominate the streets regardless of gradient. Viva la Armstrong!
Challengers for the title: Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault.
Also known as “The Champ,” “The Greatest,” and “The Louisville Lip.” Muhammad Ali changed the world of boxing and solidified it on the world wide stage. To have fights named “The Rumble in the Jungle” and “The Thrilla in Manila” is a testament to his prowess. He has 56 wins out of 61 and won 37 times by knock out (although a notable loss was to Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century”). To this day, many utter the quotations created by Ali and have ventured into modern day colloquiums.
Challengers for the title: Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Manny Pacquiao.
Michael Phelps holds the world’s record for most gold medals by ANY athlete (14 total from 2 Olympics). He also holds the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics (with 8) The amount of power, athleticism, and energy needed for swimming is unparalleled and Phelps has been able to dominate it. He belongs within the water rather than on land – the modern day Aquaman.
Challengers: Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe.
Jack Nicklaus, aka the Golden Bear, impacted not only golf, but the modern day sports world. It was the internationally renowned golfer that first hired a sports agent and transformed/created sports business. He was not as dominating as a Tiger Woods in his prime, but Nicklaus had to fight against Arnold Palmer (THE Arnold Palmer) and Gary Player. Even with such stiff competition, Nicklaus won 18 majors! He rounds out the top 5 greatest individual athletes of all time.
Challengers: Tiger Woods.