Sports might not be as significant and effective in human life and activity as science, technology, education, business, and politics but they definitely have their own role to play in society not only today but also from the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Next to the music, film, and TV industries, sports entertain or, in rare cases, even offer national pride to fans around the world. There have been various polls and rankings in many different countries about the world’s greatest athletes of all time with most of them either focusing on a few major sports or, even worse, focusing exclusively on athletes from one country ignoring, in this way, many great athletes from different parts of the world. With this list we will attempt to rank the 25 greatest male athletes in history by sport.
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Bill Shoemaker, Horse Racing
Despite his small frame and weighing no more than a hundred pounds during his prime, whoever shook hands with legendary Bill Shoemaker will assure you that this small man had one of the most powerful handshakes you could ever imagine. These small but strong hands were the secret behind a highly decorated forty-plus year career, during which Shoemaker won eleven Triple Crown races, 1,009 stakes races, and ten national money titles. He made more than $125 million in purses, about $10 million of which went into his pocket. He won the Kentucky Derby four times and the Belmont Stakes five, and his record for the most wins with 8,833 would last for many years until another immortal of the sport, Laffit Pincay Jr., would finally break it in 1999.
John Brzenk, Arm Wrestling
The legendary American arm wrestler from Illinois is doubtless one of the most dominant champions in the history of any sport since he remained undefeated for an incredible span of twenty-three years. In 1983 he won his first world title when he was only eighteen and he remains to date the youngest world champion in the history of the sport. The Guinness Book of World Records named him the “Greatest Arm-wrestler of All Time.” He also made a cameo appearance in Over The Top, starring Sylvester Stallone, which is the most popular movie ever related to the sport. It is estimated that he has won over 250 titles and tournaments during his incredible career.
Kelly Slater, Surfing
Kelly Slater is the greatest and most famous surfer who ever lived. The American surfing superstar has won the ASP World Tour Championships a record eleven times, and also holds the record for being the youngest to ever win the world title (at age twenty) and the oldest ever as well when he won it for the last time in 2011 at age thirty-nine. His net worth is estimated to be about $20 million, which makes him the richest surfer of all time as well.
Tony Hawk, Skating
“The Birdman,” as he is better known among his fans, is a former professional skater and the first true superstar the sport ever produced. Tony Hawk pioneered several skating moves during his career and was the one who first completed the epic “900,” which is considered one of the hardest aerial spins performed on a skateboard ramp because the skater has to perform 2½ revolutions (900 degrees) without falling. Additionally, Hawk became the highest-paid athlete from any extreme sport and made millions, had video games, shoes, and skates named after him and won nine gold medals at the X Games, the Olympics of Extreme Sports. In 2014, Fox Weekly named Hawk one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.
Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Biathlon
Ole is the equivalent of Michael Phelps but for the Winter Olympics. The Norwegian professional biathlete and superstar of the “icy sports” is the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Winter Games with a whopping thirteen medals in five different Olympics. He started his medal collection at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. With the two gold medals he recently won at the 2014 Sochi Olympics he reached eight career gold medals, and his collection also includes four silver medals and a bronze. Add into the mix thirty-nine (nineteen of them gold) more medals from the world championships and you know perfectly well why he’s on our list.