Multi-sport athletes are a rare breed of individuals who succeed in more than one sport. The world of sport is notoriously competitive, and making it as a pro in one sport is difficult enough, making it in multiple sports then is quite rightly regarded as an almighty achievement. Some of the athletes on this list succeeded in as many as three or four different sports, often competing at the highest level, and are as such, considered among the greatest athletes of all time.
Qualifying greatness in any field can prove tricky, and this is no exception. The selection and ordering of this list is based primarily on the athlete's ability in more than one sport. That is to say, a remarkable athlete such as Michael Jordan, despite his incredible achievements in basketball, does not make the list due to his limited time and success in the world of baseball. An athlete who was good at two sports ranks higher than one who was exceptional at one and fairly poor in another.
Another example is Joe Louis. Widely regarded as one of the finest heavyweight boxers of all time, Louis was also pivotal in breaking down the color barriers within golf, and was the first African American to partake in a PGA Tour event. But despite being a talented golfer, Louis was not skilled enough in the sport to make this list. Others who narrowly missed out include Jackie Robinson, Dave Winfield, John Elway, Lottie Dodd, Carl Crawford and Otto Graham. Here are the top 15 greatest multi-sport athletes of all time:
15 Herschel Walker
14 Alfred Lyttelton
13 Harvey Pulford
12 Bob Hayes
11 Cuthbert Ottaway
10 Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders is the only man to have played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series, a rare distinction and one which will possibly never be done again either. A gifted baseball and track athlete, Sanders is best known for his achievements as a football player. Sanders represented five different NFL franchises over a 16 year football career, and his greatest success came with the Dallas Cowboys, where he won the Super Bowl twice. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
9 Sir Ian Botham
8 Gene Conley
7 Babe Didrikson
The only woman to make the top 15, although Lottie Dodd can be considered unfortunate not to have done so, Babe Didrikson (later Babe Didrikson Zaharias) is the finest multis-sport female athlete of all time. Born in Texas to Norwegian parents, Didrikson found particular success in golf, basketball and track & field, although she was competitive in a number of other fields also.
6 Jim Brown
5 Lionel Conacher
4 CB Fry
CB Fry is truly one of the most astonishing athletes and individuals in modern history. His talents lied not only in sport but beyond. In sport, cricket was his finest game, widely regarded as one of the most gifted players of his day, with a batting average of over 50, the second highest in history at the time of his retirement. Fry was also a talented footballer, playing in an FA Cup final and being capped by England.
3 Bo Jackson
2 Max Woosnam
1 Jim Thorpe
Narrowly taking top spot is Jim Thorpe, quite simply one of the finest athletes to have ever lived. Born in Oklahoma to Native American, Irish and French ancestry, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox. At college, Thorpe's sporting prowess became clear, winning plaudits in the high jump, lacrosse, football and baseball. In 1911 and 1912 he was awarded All-American honours in football. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm Thorpe won gold in both the decathlon and pentathlon, showing his versatility as an athlete.
Both of these medals were stripped from him when it was revealed Thorpe was already playing baseball as a semi-pro at that time, but they were re-instaded 30 years later. Thorpe spent six years playing in the MLB, most notably for the New York Giants, and had a batting average of .252. In football he was major trade for the Canton Bulldogs in 1915, and went on to win 3 titles with the team; much less is known of his basketball career. Thorpe played 52 NFL games for 6 different teams before retiring from all sport at the age of 41.
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