Famous 20th Century Athletes

Find out more about the greatest 20th Century Athletes, including Ross Rebagliati, Usain Bolt, Oscar Pistorius, Debi Thomas and Jesse Owens.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite Athletes

 1 Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens.
10
Birthdate: September 12, 1913
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Oakville
Died: March 31, 1980

Widely regarded as one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time, Jesse Owens' three world records in less than an hour in 1935 came to be known as the greatest 45 minutes ever in sports. He was credited with destroying Adolf Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics.

 2 Mo Farah

Mo Farah.
13
Famous As: Athlete
Birthdate: March 23, 1983
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Mogadishu
Long-distance runner Mo Farah shot to fame with his 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter wins at the 2012 London Olympics. The first athlete to score a quadruple double, Farah has won 10 major international titles. He became the European Athlete of the Year thrice and has also received the CBE.
Recommended Lists:

 3 Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci.
6
Famous As: Olympic Champion Gymnast
Birthdate: November 12, 1961
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Onești

Nadia Comaneci is a Romanian former gymnast. One of the best-known gymnasts in the world, Comaneci has five Olympic gold medals under her belt. Credited with popularizing gymnastics around the world, Nadia Comaneci was honored by the Laureus World Sports Academy by including her in their Athletes of the 20th Century list in 2000.

 4 Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe.
8
Famous As: Athlete
Birthdate: May 28, 1888
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma
Died: March 28, 1953

Jim Thorpe was an American athlete who was counted among the most versatile athletes of the modern era. Jim Thorpe won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics and became the first Native American to give the United States an Olympic gold. He also played American football, professional baseball, and basketball. He was memorialized in the 1951 film Jim Thorpe – All-American.

 5 Florence Griffith Joyner

Florence Griffith Joyner.
8
Famous As: Sprinter
Birthdate: December 21, 1959
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Los Angeles
Died: September 21, 1998

Legendary American sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner is still regarded as the fastest woman in the world. Her world records in both the 100m and 200m categories have still not been broken. The three-time Olympic gold medal winner was also known for her six-inch nails and her unconventional outfits.

 6 Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis.
8
Birthdate: July 1, 1961
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama, U.S

A dominant sprinter and long jumper, Carl Lewis has won ten Olympic medals, nine of them gold. From 1981 to 1991, he topped the world rankings in the 100 m, 200 m and long jump events, slowly starting to lose his dominance thereafter, eventually retiring in 1997. Currently a businessperson, he has also appeared in films and television productions.

 7 Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix.
5
Famous As: Track and field athlete
Birthdate: November 18, 1985
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Los Angeles

The most-decorated track and field athlete, Allyson Felix, once bullied for having skinny legs, now has a record 9 Olympic medals, including 6 gold medals. Named to Time 100 in 2020, she is also part of the board of Right to Play, which caters to children in underdeveloped countries.

You May Like

 8 Justin Gatlin

Justin Gatlin.
8
Famous As: Sprinter
Birthdate: February 10, 1982
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Five-time Olympic medalist and renowned sprinter Justin Gatlin is a specialist in the 100m and the 200m categories. In 2005, he became the first to win both the 100m and the 200m world titles. He was a childhood fan of Mike Tyson and had initially been a hurdler.

 9 Tyson Gay

Tyson Gay
6
Famous As: Sprinter, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: August 9, 1982
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lexington

Born into an athletic family, Tyson Gay naturally developed an interest in sports. One of the fastest sprinters in both the 100m and the 200m categories, he was part of the 2016 Olympic relay team that was stripped of its medal for breaking game rules.

 10 Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson.
6
Famous As: American olympic athlete
Birthdate: September 13, 1967
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Dallas

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson remains the only man to win both the 200m and the 400m events in the same Olympics. He was the Track & Field News 1996 Athlete of the Year. In 2008, he returned his 2000 Olympic relay medal, as a teammate had taken performance-enhancing drugs.

 11 Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph.
4
Birthdate: June 23, 1940
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee
Died: November 12, 1994

Sprinter Wilma Rudolph made history by becoming the first American female athlete to win three track and field gold medals in a single Olympic game. As a child, she needed orthopedic shoes to help her walk. The sports icon lost her life to cancer but was immortalized through books and movies.

 12 Cathy Freeman

Cathy Freeman.
6
Famous As: Sprinter
Birthdate: February 16, 1973
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Slade Point, Mackay, Queensland

Cathy Freeman is a former sprinter known for her achievements in the 400 meters events. Her personal best of 48.63, set at the 1996 Olympics, makes her the eighth-fastest woman of all time. She gave Australia an Olympic gold at the 2000 Olympics. Also a humanitarian, Freeman is credited with founding the Cathy Freeman Foundation.

 13 Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
4
Famous As: Athlete
Birthdate: March 3, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: East St. Louis, Illinois, United States

The first to score over 7,000 points in the heptathlon, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is considered by many as one of the greatest female athletes ever. While in school, she excelled in sports such as volleyball, basketball, and track, and also did well in studies. She later won three Olympic golds medals.

 14 Denise Lewis

Denise Lewis
4
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: August 27, 1972
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: West Bromwich

Denise Lewis is a British sports commentator and former athlete. She won the heptathlon gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and became the first European to win Olympic gold in the heptathlon. A two-time Commonwealth Games champion, Lewis also won silver medals in the 1997 and 1999 World Championships. She was also the 1998 European Champion. 

 15 Kelly Holmes

Kelly Holmes
6
Famous As: Middle-distance runner
Birthdate: April 19, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Tonbridge and Malling

Kelly Holmes is a retired English middle-distance athlete who specialized in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters events. She won gold medals for both distances at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Beginning her career with the British Army, she turned to professional athletics in 1993. She took part in her final major championship in 2004. 

 16 Linford Christie

Linford Christie.
6
Famous As: Retired Sprinter
Birthdate: April 2, 1960
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Saint Andrew, Jamaica

Linford Christie is a Jamaican-born British former sprinter who won gold medals in the 100 meters at the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships, and the Commonwealth Games. He is one of the most highly decorated British athletes of all time. He was awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1993. 

 17 Ashton Eaton

Ashton Eaton.
6
Famous As: Decathlete
Birthdate: January 21, 1988
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Portland Oregon

Two-time Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton began his international career in 2008, winning his first international medal, a silver, at the 2011 World Championships. In the following year, he won two gold medals, one in Heptathlon at the World Indoor Championships and the other in Decathlon in London Olympic Games, defending his Olympic title four years later in Rio de Janeiro.

 18 Daley Thompson

Daley Thompson.
6
Famous As: Decathlete
Birthdate: July 30, 1958
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Notting Hill, London, United Kingdom

Daley Thompson is a British former athlete who specialized in decathlon. He has won gol medals in decathlon at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. He also broke the world record for decathlon on four occasions. He also won three Commonwealth titles and is regarded as the greatest decathlete ever. 

 19 Valerie Adams

Valerie Adams.
4
Famous As: Shot Putter
Birthdate: October 6, 1984
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Rotorua
Star shot-putter of New Zealand Valerie Adams boasts of two Olympic golds and four World Championship titles. IAAF’s 2014 World Athlete of the Year, she was one of 18 children born to an English father and a Tongan mother and first gained attention after breaking a 20-year school shot-put record.

 20 Haile Gebrselassie

Haile Gebrselassie
4
Famous As: Marathon runner, Long-distance runner, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: April 18, 1973
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Asella

 21 Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila.
4
Famous As: Olympic marathon champion
Birthdate: August 7, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Ethiopia
Died: October 25, 1973

Ethiopian marathon runner, Abebe Bikil,a became the first black African Olympic gold medalist at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Four years later, he won his second gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He created world record both the times. A pioneer in long-distance running, he participated in a total of 16 marathons. 

 22 Sergey Bubka

Sergey Bubka.
6
Famous As: Pole Vaulter
Birthdate: December 4, 1963
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Luhansk, Ukraine

Russian star pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka had started training at age 9. He soared to fame after winning the world championship in Finland at age 15 and later became the first to jump 6.1m. He won the 1988 Seoul Olympic gold and shattered the global men’s pole vault record 35 times.

 23 Bob Beamon

Bob Beamon
4
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: August 29, 1946
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: South Jamaica

Bob Beamon is a former American track and field athlete who won the gold medal for the long jump at the 1968 Olympics. He created a world record in the process of winning the gold medal; the record was broken by Mike Powell almost 23 years later. Beamon was inducted into United States Olympic Hall of Fame.

 24 Maurice Greene

Maurice Greene.
4
Famous As: Track & Field Sprinter
Birthdate: July 23, 1974
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Kansas City, Kansas, United States

Maurice Greene is a former track and field athlete and a former world record holder in 100-metre dash. Greene won four Olympic medals, including two gold medals, representing the United States of America in two Olympic Games. Maurice Greene also has five gold medals at the World Athletics Championships under his belt.

 25 Lolo Jones

Lolo Jones
4
Famous As: Sprinter, Bobsledder, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: August 5, 1982
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Des Moines

While she believes missing out on the gold medal at the 100m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was her most painful experience, American hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones is still quite a star. She has penned a memoir and has also appeared on shows such as Celebrity Big Brother.

 26 Dennis Weaver

Dennis Weaver.
6
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: June 4, 1924
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri, United States
Died: February 24, 2006
Dennis Weaver is best known as Chester Goode/Proudfoot from Gunsmoke and as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud from McCloud. He initially ran track and field, but his failure to qualify for the U.S. Olympic decathlon team made him join films. He had also been the president of the Screen Actors Guild.

 27 Edwin Moses

Edwin Moses
3
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: August 31, 1955
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Dayton

 28 P. T. Usha

P. T. Usha
4
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: June 27, 1964
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Payyoli

 29 Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine.
6
Famous As: Long-distance Runner
Birthdate: January 25, 1951
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Coos Bay
Died: May 30, 1975

Long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine had competed in only one Olympic, finishing fourth in the 5000m race in Munich. However, he had begun breaking records since high school and excelled in cross-country running. His tragic death in a car accident after attending a party ended his life and his sports dreams.

 30 Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi
3
Famous As: Long-distance runner
Birthdate: June 13, 1897
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Turku, Finland
Died: October 2, 1973

 31 Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson.
4
Famous As: Sprinter
Birthdate: December 30, 1961
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Falmouth, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica[1]

 32 Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Katarina Johnson-Thompson
5
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: January 9, 1993
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Liverpool

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is an English heptathlete whose performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games earned her a gold medal. She also won the gold at the 2019 World Championships. Katarina Johnson-Thompson holds the British record for the women's pentathlon with 5,000 points. A highly talented athlete, Katarina Johnson-Thompson also holds the British records for high jump in both outdoors and indoors.

 33 Ellen Whitaker

Ellen Whitaker
8
Famous As: Show jumper
Birthdate: March 5, 1986
Sun Sign: Pisces

Ellen Whitaker is an English show jumping rider. In September 2019, she was ranked 211 on the FEI riders' Longines Ranking list. She began competing at the tender age of five and qualified for the Horse Of The Year Show (HOYS) at just eight years old. She represented Great Britain in the European Championships in 2007. 

 34 Aimee Mullins

Aimee Mullins
4
Famous As: Athlete
Birthdate: July 20, 1976
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States

Born without fibular bones, Aimee Mullins had to have her legs amputated below the knee as an infant. Undeterred, she grew up to be a Paralympic record-breaker, competing as a track and field athlete with prosthetic legs. She has walked the ramp for Alexander McQueen and has starred in films, too.

 35 Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell.
4
Birthdate: January 16, 1902
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Tianjin
Died: February 21, 1945

Eric Liddell was a Scottish athlete who won a gold medal in 400 meters race at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. In his later years, he became a Christian missionary. Though he was of Scottish origin, he was born in China, where he spent most of his life and died eventually.

 36 Jay Silverheels

Jay Silverheels.
4
Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: May 26, 1912
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Six Nations Reservation, Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Died: March 5, 1980

Indigenous Canadian actor Jay Silverheels gained international popularity for playing Tonto, the Native American companion of the protagonist in the American western TV series The Lone Ranger. As a young man, he excelled in athletics and became a lacrosse player. He later quit sports to pursue acting. He bred and raced Standardbred horses as a hobby. 

 37 Matt Miazga

Matt Miazga
4
Famous As: Association football player
Birthdate: July 19, 1995
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Clifton

American soccer player and Chelsea defender Matt Miazga has previously also represented the New York Red Bulls. Born to Polish immigrant parents in the U.S., Miazga is a staunch Christian and often expresses his religious views on social media. He was part of the American Olympic campaign in 2016.

 38 Big E Langston

Big E Langston
6
Birthdate: March 1, 1986
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tampa

Ettore Ewen, better known by his ring name, Big E Langston, currently performs for the WWE’s SmackDown. The 290-pound wrestler first gained fame as a footballer at the University of Iowa. He had also been a powerlifter before taking up wrestling. He has also voiced Canon Wulf in Lazor Wulf.

 39 Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Coe.
6
Famous As: Middle Distance Runner, Politician
Birthdate: September 29, 1956
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Hammersmith

Sebastian Coe is a politician and former athlete who represented Great Britain in two Olympic events. He won four Olympic medals including two gold medals as a middle-distance runner. In 2012, he was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame. The same year, Coe was honored at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. 

 40 Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
4
Famous As: Sprinter, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: December 27, 1986
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kingston

 41 Hicham El Guerrouj

Hicham El Guerrouj.
4
Famous As: Athlete
Birthdate: September 14, 1974
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Berkane, Morocco

Moroccan former middle-distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj is a four-time 1500m world champion. The UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador became the second athlete to win both the 1500m and 5000m titles in the same Olympics. He won the IAAF World Athlete of the Year thrice and holds many indoor and outdoor records.

 42 Alun Wyn Jones

Alun Wyn Jones
6
Famous As: Rugby union player
Birthdate: September 19, 1985
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Swansea

Alun Wyn Jones is a Welsh rugby union player who is currently playing for the Ospreys. Jones is the current captain of the Wales national rugby team and has helped his team win  five Six Nations Championships. He has also won other important trophies, such as three Grand Slams, four Triple Crowns, three Doddie Weir Cups, and four Prince William Cups.

 43 Carl Frampton

Carl Frampton
8
Famous As: Boxer
Birthdate: February 21, 1987
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Belfast

Carl Frampton is a British former professional boxer who won the silver medal at the Men's 2007 European Union Amateur Boxing Championships where he represented Ireland. He held the IBF super-bantamweight and WBA (Unified) titles between 2014 and 2016. From 2016 to 2017, he held the WBA (Super) featherweight title.

 44 Paula Radcliffe

Paula Radcliffe
6
Famous As: Marathon runner, Long-distance runner, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: December 17, 1973
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Northwich

Paula Radcliffe is a retired distance runner, credited with winning the London Marathon and the New York Marathon three times each. Born into an athletic family, she emerged as a running talent by the time she was in her teens, winning the world junior cross-country title at the age of nineteen, eventually. She held the Women's World Marathon Record from 2003 to 2019.

 45 Chris Hoy

Chris Hoy
4
Famous As: Sport cyclist, Racecar driver
Birthdate: March 23, 1976
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Edinburgh

Chris Hoy is a British racing driver and former track cyclist. A highly decorated Olympic cyclist, he is the recipient of six gold and one silver medals. He is also an 11-time World Champion. He announced his retirement from competitive cycling in 2013. He is also interested in motorsport and competed at the 2015 Race of Champions.

 46 Georgina Bloomberg

Georgina Bloomberg
4
Famous As: Equestrian
Birthdate: January 20, 1983
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City

Born to former New York City mayor and media magnate Michael Bloomberg, Georgina Bloomberg was no stranger to the glitz of an affluent lifestyle. An elite equestrian, she now owns the New York Empire team. She has also co-authored a few novels and is an animal rights activist and a philanthropist.

 47 Colin Jackson

Colin Jackson
8
Famous As: Athletics competitor
Birthdate: February 18, 1967
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cardiff

Colin Jackson is a Welsh former athlete who represented Wales and Great Britain during his career. Jackson, who specialized in hurdles, won the silver medal in the 110m hurdles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His world record for the 110m hurdles stood for more than ten years, while his world record for the 60m hurdles stood for almost 27 years.

 48 Efren Reyes

Efren Reyes
8
Famous As: Pool player
Birthdate: August 26, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Angeles

 49 Daniil Kvyat

Daniil Kvyat
9
Famous As: Racecar driver
Birthdate: April 26, 1994
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ufa

 50 Johnny Gaudreau

Johnny Gaudreau
5
Famous As: Ice hockey player
Birthdate: August 13, 1993
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Carneys Point Township, New Jersey

Johnny Gaudreau, or Johnny Hockey, is the son of Guy Gaudreau and had learned playing ice hockey by following a trail of Skittles candy at the ice arena his father headed. Now part of the NHL team Calgary Flames, he has also won a gold at the World Junior Championships.