Famous 20th Century Athletes

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 1 
Jim Thorpe
(American Athlete and Olympic Gold Medalist)
Jim Thorpe
12
Birthdate: May 28, 1887
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lincoln County, Oklahoma, United States
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.

 2 
Allyson Felix
(Retired American Track and Field Athlete Who Competed in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 Meters)
Allyson Felix
11
Birthdate: November 18, 1985
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

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.

 3 
Carl Lewis
(American Track-and-Field Athlete Who Won Nine Olympic Gold Medals During the 1980s and 1990s)
Carl Lewis
13
Birthdate: July 1, 1961
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama, United States

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.

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 4 
Wilma Rudolph
(The First American Woman to Win Three Gold Medals in a Single Olympic Games)
Wilma Rudolph
11
Birthdate: June 23, 1940
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Clarksville, Tennessee, United States
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.

 5 
Cathy Freeman
(Australian Former Sprinter Who Specialised in the 400 metres Event)
Cathy Freeman
11
Birthdate: February 16, 1973
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Mackay, Queensland, Australia

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.

 6 
Ben Johnson
(Canadian Sprinter Who was the World's 'Fastest Man' During the 1987-88 Season)
Ben Johnson
6
Birthdate: December 30, 1961
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Falmouth, Jamaica

Ben Johnson is a Canadian retired sprinter who was adjudged the world's fastest man during the 1987–88 season after he broke the 60m and 100m indoor world records. He is best known for his performance in the 1984 Olympic Games, where he won two bronze medals. Ben Johnson also won a gold medal at the 1985 World Indoor Championships.

 7 
Kelly Holmes
(Middle-Distance Runner Who Won Two Golds in the 2004 Olympics in Athens)
Kelly Holmes
13
Birthdate: April 19, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Pembury, Kent, England

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. 

 8 
Jesse Owens
(American Track and Field Athlete Who Won Four Gold Medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics)
Jesse Owens
8
Birthdate: September 12, 1913
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Oakville, Alabama, United States
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.

 9 
Mo Farah
(British Long-Distance Runner and the Most Successful Male Track Distance Runner Ever)
Mo Farah
19
Birthdate: March 23, 1983
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Mogadishu, Somalia
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.
 10 
Florence Griffith Joyner
(Former Sprinter Who Won Gold Medal in 1988 Olympics)
Florence Griffith Joyner
9
Birthdate: December 21, 1959
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
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.

 11 
Paula Radcliffe
(British Former Long-Distance Runner)
Paula Radcliffe
10
Birthdate: December 17, 1973
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Davenham, Cheshire, England

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.

 12 
Marion Jones
(American Former World Champion Track and Field Athlete and Former Professional Basketball Player)
Marion Jones
4
Birthdate: October 12, 1975
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

Marion Jones became the first female athlete to win five track and field medals in a single Olympic game. She was, however, stripped of all her Olympic medals after she admitted to using steroids. She also spent 6 months in jail for being involved in a check-fraud case.

 13 
Dick Fosbury
(American Retired High Jumper and One of the Most Influential Athletes in the History of Track and Field)
Dick Fosbury
6
Birthdate: March 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, United States

Dick Fosbury is an American former track and field athlete who specialized in the high jump. Widely regarded as one of the most influential athletes in track and field history, Fosbury revolutionized the high jump with a new technique which came to be known as the Fosbury Flop. Dick Fosbury also won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics.

 14 
Paavo Nurmi
(Finnish Middle-Distance and Long-Distance Runner Who Dominated Distance Running in the Early 20th Century)
Paavo Nurmi
4
Birthdate: June 13, 1897
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Turku, Finland
Died: October 2, 1973

Paavo Nurmi was a Finnish athlete who specialized in long-distance and middle-distance running. Nicknamed the Flying Finn, Nurmi dominated important distance running events in the early 20th century. He won nine gold medals and three silver medals across three Olympics in 1920, 1924, and 1928. Paavo Nurmi also set 22 official world records during his career.

 15 
Bob Beamon
(Best Known for His World Record in the Long Jump at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968)
Bob Beamon
7
Birthdate: August 29, 1946
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: South Jamaica, New York, United States

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.

 16 
Colin Jackson
(Welsh Former Sprint and Hurdling Athlete)
Colin Jackson
8
Birthdate: February 18, 1967
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cardiff, Wales

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.

 17 
Merlene Ottey
(Jamaican-Slovenian Former Track and Field Sprinter)
Merlene Ottey
4
Birthdate: May 10, 1960
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hanover Parish, Jamaica

Merlene Ottey is a Jamaican-Slovenian retired track and field sprinter. She represented Jamaica in international events for 24 years before representing Slovenia for 10 years. In 1993, she clocked 21.87 seconds to set the world indoor record for 200 metres; she has been holding that record ever since. Merlene Ottey is also known for winning several medals at Olympic Games. 

 18 
John Carlos
(American Former Track and Field Athlete)
John Carlos
6
Birthdate: June 5, 1945
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City, United States

John Carlos is a former football player and track and field athlete. Carlos won a bronze medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics. After his track career, he helped organize the 1984 Summer Olympics as part of his work with the United States Olympic Committee. In 2003, Carlos was made an inductee of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.

 19 
Maurice Greene
(American Former Track and Field Sprinter and Olympic Medalist)
Maurice Greene
6
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.

 20 
Edwin Moses
(American Former Track and Field Athlete and Olympic Gold Medalist in the 400 m Hurdles)
Edwin Moses
7
Birthdate: August 31, 1955
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Dayton, Ohio, United States
Height: 6'2" (188 cm)
 21 
Fanny Blankers-Koen
(Dutch Track and Field Athlete)
Fanny Blankers-Koen
7
Birthdate: April 26, 1918
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Lage Vuursche, Netherlands
Died: January 25, 2004
Height: 5'9" (175 cm)
 22 
Gail Devers
(One of the Greatest and Most Decorated Female Sprinters of All Time)
Gail Devers
4
Birthdate: July 23, 1966
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, United States
 23 
Emil Zatopek
(Czech Long-Distance Runner Who Was Considered One of the Greatest Runners of the 20th Century)
Emil Zatopek
5
Birthdate: September 19, 1922
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kopřivnice, Czech Republic
Died: November 21, 2000

Winner of four Olympic golds, three of which came from the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Czech long-distance runner Emil Zatopek came to be known as the Czech Locomotive and The Bouncing Czech for his speed. He lost his Communist Party membership for criticizing the 1968 Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia.

 24 
Liu Xiang
(hurdler, athletics competitor)
Liu Xiang
4
Birthdate: July 13, 1983
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Shanghai

Hurdler Liu Xiang created history by becoming the first Chinese Olympic gold medalist in any men’s track-and-field event. While he excelled in high jump in his younger days, he deviated to hurdles by 15. He has also earned gold medals at the world championships and the Asian Games.

 25 
Mary Decker
(American Middle-Distance Runner)
Mary Decker
7
Birthdate: August 4, 1958
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Flemington, New Jersey, United States
Height: 5'6" (168 cm)
 26 
Jarmila Kratochvílová
(Former Czech Track and Field Athlete Who Specialized in the 400 Metres & 800 Metres Events)
Jarmila Kratochvílová
4
Birthdate: January 26, 1951
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Golčův Jeníkov, Czech Republic

Jarmila Kratochvílová is a Czech retired track and field athlete known for winning gold medals in the 800m and 400m events at the 1983 World Championships and setting a world record in the process in the 400m event. In 1983, she also set a world record in the 800m event. Kratochvílová also won a silver medal at the 1980 Olympics.

 27 
Linford Christie
(The First European Athlete to Break the 10-second Barrier in the 100 m)
Linford Christie
5
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. 

 28 
Mike Powell
(American Former Track and Field Athlete and the Holder of the Long Jump World Record)
Mike Powell
4
Birthdate: November 10, 1963
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Height: 6'2" (188 cm)
 29 
Daley Thompson
(British Former Decathlete and Olympic Gold Medalist)
Daley Thompson
4
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. 

 30 
Denise Lewis
(Former Track and Field Athlete Who Specialised in the Heptathlon)
Denise Lewis
6
Birthdate: August 27, 1972
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: West Bromwich, England

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. 

 31 
Roger Bannister
(The First Athlete to Run a Mile in Less Than Four Minutes)
Roger Bannister
9
Birthdate: March 23, 1929
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Harrow, England
Died: March 3, 2018

British middle-distance athlete and neurologist Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister was the first athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes. Before achieving such feat, Bannister set a British record in the 1500 metres during the 1952 Summer Olympics. In the medical field, Bannister became a neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford.

 32 
Lasse Virén
(Finnish Retired Athlete who Specialized in Long-distance Running)
Lasse Virén
6
Birthdate: July 22, 1949
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Myrskylä, Finland

Lasse Virén is a Finnish retired athlete who specialized in long-distance running. He is best known for his performance in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, where he won two gold medals at each Games. Lasse Virén is also known for winning a bronze medal at the 1974 European Championships in Rome.

 33 
Javier Sotomayor
(Former Cuban Track and Field Athlete)
Javier Sotomayor
3
Birthdate: October 13, 1967
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Limonar, Cuba
Height: 6'4" (193 cm)
 34 
Efren Reyes
(Filipino Professional Pool Player Who is Widely Considered the Greatest Pool Player of All Time)
Efren Reyes
9
Birthdate: August 26, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Angeles

Efren Reyes is a Filipino professional pool player who is regarded as the greatest player of all time. Nicknamed The Magician, Reyes is best known for his ability to display numerous trick shots. Efren Reyes has also won more than 100 international titles over the course of his illustrious career. Reyes is a WPA World Eight-ball and Nine-ball champion.

 35 
Steve Ovett
(British Track Athlete)
Steve Ovett
4
Birthdate: October 9, 1955
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Brighton, Sussex, England

Apart from winning a gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Steve Ovett also set six world records. He once ruled the middle-distance running scene. A talented footballer in his teens, he later chose athletics, since he wanted to pursue a sport that wouldn’t make him dependent on his teammates.

 36 
Jan Železný
(Regarded as the Modern Era's Greatest Javelin Thrower)
Jan Železný
4
Birthdate: June 16, 1966
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mlada Boleslav, Czechia

Jan Železný is a Czech retired track and field athlete who specialized in the javelin throw. With three Olympic gold medals under his belt, Železný is regarded as the modern era's greatest javelin thrower. Železný broke the world record on four occasions and currently holds the record with a throw of 98.48 metres. He is also a three-time world champion.

 37 
Jim Kelly
(American Athlete, Martial Artist and Actor)
Jim Kelly
6
Birthdate: May 5, 1946
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, Kentucky, United States
Died: June 29, 2013

Athlete and martial artist Jim Kelly won hearts with his Afro hairstyle and his roles in action film such as Enter the Dragon and Black Belt Jones. Apart from films, he also excelled in karate, winning contests such as the International Middle Weight Karate Championship. He has also played professional tennis.

 38 
Teemu Selänne
(Former Finnish Ice Hockey Player Who Played as a Winger)
Teemu Selänne
5
Birthdate: July 3, 1970
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Helsinki

Teemu Selänne is a Finnish retired ice hockey player who played as a winger. Dubbed the Finnish Flash, Teemu is the highest scoring player from Finland in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL). In 2017, he became only the second Finn after Jari Kurri to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

 39 
Peter Norman
(Australian Track Athlete and Olympic Silver Medalist)
Peter Norman
6
Birthdate: June 15, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Coburg, Australia
Died: October 3, 2006

Peter Norman was an Australian athlete who won a silver medal in the 200 meters event at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He is remembered for supporting fellow athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos by wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during their medal ceremony; he is the third athlete seen in the popular Olympics Black Power salute photograph.

 40 
Michael Johnson
(American Retired Sprinter Who Won Four Olympic Gold Medals)
Michael Johnson
8
Birthdate: September 13, 1967
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas, United States

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.

 41 
Kipchoge Keino
(Retired Kenyan Track and Field Athlete)
Kipchoge Keino
3
Birthdate: January 17, 1940
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kipsamo, Nandi, Rift Valley, Kenya
Height: 5'8" (173 cm)
 42 
Ralph Metcalfe
(American Track and Field Sprinter and Politician)
Ralph Metcalfe
3
Birthdate: May 29, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died: October 10, 1978
Height: 5'10" (178 cm)
 43 
Francois Pienaar
(South African Retired Rugby Union Player)
Francois Pienaar
6
Birthdate: January 2, 1967
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Vereeniging, South Africa

Francois Pienaar is a former rugby player who captained the South African national team from 1993 to 1996. He is best-known for helping his team win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In 2004, he was ranked 50th in a list named Top 100 Great South Africans. In 2005, he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

 44 
Jigoro Kano
(Japanese Educator, Athlete, and the Founder of Judo)
Jigoro Kano
4
Birthdate: December 10, 1860
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hyogo, Japan
Died: May 4, 1938

Legendary Japanese athlete Jigoro Kano is remembered as the founder of judo. A fine educator, he had also had a 23-year stint as the principal of 2 schools, which later became the University of Tsukuba. He was also the first Asian to be part of the International Olympic Committee.

 45 
Steve Cram
(British Retired Track and Field Athlete)
Steve Cram
4
Birthdate: October 14, 1960
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gateshead, England

Steve Cram is a British former athlete who dominated the middle-distance running event during the 1980s alongside other athletes like Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. During the summer of 1985, Cram set world records in the mile run, 2000m, and 1500m during a 19-day period. He is the first person to run 1500m under three-and-a-half minutes.

 46 
Derartu Tulu
(Ethiopian Retired Long-Distance Runner)
Derartu Tulu
6
Birthdate: March 21, 1972
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Bekoji, Ethiopia

Derartu Tulu is an Ethiopian retired long-distance runner who took part in several events like road running and marathon. She won a gold medal each at the 1992 and 2000 Olympics. She also won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. Tulu is also known for winning a gold and silver medal at the World Championships.

 47 
Alberto Juantorena
(Former Cuban Runner)
Alberto Juantorena
3
Birthdate: December 3, 1950
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Height: 6'3" (190 cm)
 48 
Suzy Favor Hamilton
(American Former Middle-Distance Runner)
Suzy Favor Hamilton
4
Birthdate: August 8, 1968
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Suzy Favor Hamilton is a former middle-distance runner who participated in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Summer Olympics, representing the USA. Favor broke many hearts when she turned to prostitution which in turn ended her career as an athlete. She claimed mental illness as the reason for her downfall and is currently serving as a speaker at mental health conferences.

 49 
Alberto Salazar
(American Former Track Coach and Long-Distance Runner)
Alberto Salazar
4
Birthdate: August 7, 1958
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Havana, Cuba

Alberto Salazar is an American former long-distance runner who won the silver medal at the 1982 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Rome, Italy. After his retirement from the sport, Salazar served as the head coach for the Nike Oregon Project and received the 2013 IAAF Coaching Achievement Award in Monaco. He was later banned for doping and sexual offenses.

 50 
Donovan Bailey
(The First Canadian to Legally Break the 10-second Barrier in the 100 m)
Donovan Bailey
0
Birthdate: December 16, 1967
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Manchester Parish, Jamaica

Donovan Bailey is a retired Jamaican-Canadian sprinter. He once held the world record for the 100 meters and is considered the greatest Canadian sprinter of all time. Noted for his top speed, he became the first Canadian to legally break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters. In 2004,  he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.