Since ancient Greece, athletes have earned the admiration of society. And, notably, the competition between the different individuals to know who is the best athlete has increased from generation to generation.
The sports industry has evolved over time. Athletes are getting better and better and the analysis of small details in every discipline helps them break all kinds of records. However, there have been sports personalities who marked an era in society and were able to influence generations in a way that transcended the sport.
The influence these athletes could have varies between different aspects of their careers. In sports, being the most outstanding in their discipline until they become idols for generations to come, and socially for the scope in the advertising of brands and in the political relevance of the times. That’s why we’re presenting you with a list of the 10 most influential athletes of all time:
10. Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina, 1911 – 1995)
The Argentine star Juan Manuel Fangio was synonymous with speed, and one of the most emblematic people of motor skills in the 1950s. He was a 5-time world champion with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari, and Mercedes) on the highest competition (Formula 1), and his record remained for almost half a century until 2003 when Michael Schumacher beat him.
9. Mark Spitz (USA, 1950 – Present)
The 1972 Olympics represented a breaking point for star swimmer Mark Spitz, who suffered an anti-semitic attack. Spitz – of Jewish descent – managed to break all the records in the different competitions he played by winning 7 gold medals. He was the first athlete to achieve this accomplishment until his compatriot Michael Phelps reached him 36 years later in Beijing 2008.
8. Nadia Comăneci (Romania, 1961 – Present)
Nadia Comăneci was chosen by Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo as the best female athlete of the 20th century. Her national influence managed to position her as the country’s best-known celebrity. At the Olympics,she won 9 medals in total and was the first gymnast to achieve the perfect score.
7. Pelé (Brazil, 1940 – Present)
The years pass and the King of Football stays on the podium. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, still holds the record for most goals scored ever with 1,282. Three-time world champion, he positioned Brazil at the top of the most popular sport on the planet.
6. Jackie Robinson (USA, 1919 – 1972)
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was actually the grandson of slaves. Besides being a superstar, he was known for becoming the baseball player who broke the racial segregation barrier in Major League Baseball. He was the first African American player in the U.S top-tier league, setting a huge precedent for many more to come.
5. Jesse Owens (USA, 1913 – 1980)
A member of the United States Athletics Hall of Fame, Jesse Owens was named Athlete of the Year for his participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, in which he won several gold medals and was immortalized for damaging Hitler’s party by ranking in front of every german. He was awarded after his death with the Gold Medal of the United States Congress and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
4. Diego Maradona (Argentina, 1960 – 2020)
Soccer reached an unimaginable global scale because of Diego Maradona’s relevance. He became the most famous athlete of the moment and one of the best-known people in the world. World champion in ’86, he overextended the influence in sports to the social, after beating England with two of the most famous goals in soccer history. He became a national treasure by beating the same team that had just engaged in a war with Argentina.
3. Babe Ruth (USA, 1895 – 1948)
Babe Ruth is one of the greatest exponents of American sport, playing more than 20 seasons in which he achieved several records as the most remembered of the 60 home runs in a single season. Bambino’s influence overcame sports for his constant aid to the orphanage and even helped collect government bonds in World War II. Notably, he was as dominant as a slugger as he was from the mound.
2. Michael Jordan (USA, 1963 – Present)
Winner of six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan is considered the greatest hooper of all time. He won 10 Scoring Titles, 5 MVPs, and 6 Finals MVPs. Jordan’s influence was also giant off the court, becoming the face of many brands in advertising. Up to this day, the ‘Air Jordan’ sneaker culture is still a worldwide success.
1. Muhammad Ali (USA, 1942 – 2016)
Legendary heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali went on to history for his great feats in and out of the ring. Irreverence in his statements against racism and war led him to be one of the highest references of sport in the twentieth century, proving that athletes could actually influence positive change and defy the status quo.