WP Remix
Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition


Elite athletes naturally have a will to win, but by their actions many athletes also act to motivate and inspire others to achieve their best.

With this thought in mind, we’ve put together a list, albeit controversially, of the World’s 25 Most Motivational Athletes.

The ability of an athlete to inspire others isn’t purely about their performance. Criteria for inclusion included their ability to come back from adversity, their ability to win against quality competition again and again and their sportsmanship - how they handled themselves whether winning or loosing.

(Each entry has a link for more information and a YouTube link for video).

The World’s 25 Most Motivational Athletes

1. Lance Armstrong (USA) - did well at cycling, got cancer, then came back & conquered the cycling world with seven Tour de France wins . But what cements his No.1 position is that he has put his immense power as an athlete of the world to great use through his establishment of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and commitment to the cause to end cancer.

2. Muhammad Ali (USA) - Cassius Clay won an Olympic Gold (1960) and three heavy weight world titles. "I am the greatest" and "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" became his trademarks as he transcended sport in his retirement. According to Ali’s website "Ali has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. He is a devout Muslim, and travels the world over, lending his name and presence to hunger and poverty relief, supporting education efforts of all kinds, promoting adoption and encouraging people to respect and better understand one another. It is estimated that he has helped to provide more than 22 million meals to feed the hungry."
It’s not bragging if you can back it up.

3. Michael Jordan (USA) - Definitely the greatest basketball player of all time, Jordan was probably the most effectively marketed athlete of his generation. Through multiple comebacks and a stint in Baseball, His Airness proved his athleticism again and again, inspiring millions to be like Mike. For the record, he earned six NBA titles and two Olympic Golds. His charity work in his own name and through his Jordan Brand is ongoing and so far includes $5 million to Chicago’s Hales Franciscan High School, and donations to Habitat for Humanity and a Louisiana branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

4. Michael Phelps (USA) - 14 Gold Medals in two Olympics at just 23 years old - a testament to his remarkable ability in one of the toughest sports as well as the number of opportunities to win medals in multiple events in swimming . Phelps was a 15 year old at the Sydney Olympics, finishing 5th in the 200m butterfly. Only Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (born 1934) holds more total career Olympic medals with 18 (nine gold), compared to Phelps’s 16 (14 gold). Extra credit to Phelps for donating a $1 million bonus from the Beijing Olympics to start his own charity.
You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.

5. Andre Agassi (USA) - Andre was the child prodigy who reinvented himself as a 30-something tennis player to win eight Grand Slam singles tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in singles. His post-win gesture of blowing kisses to spectators on each side of the court was admired as a humble acknowledgment of the crowd’s support of him and tennis. Wikipedia says Agassi is regularly cited as the most charitable and socially involved player in professional tennis. It has also been surmised that he may be the most charitable athlete of his generation. He is the founder of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation (in 1994), which has raised over $60 million for at-risk children in Southern Nevada.
To the US open crowd at his last match: You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you. And I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.

6. Steve Redgrave (GBR) - one of the most enduring successful Olympians of all time - 5 gold medals in rowing at 5 Olympics , a feat shared by just four athletes. Sir Steve is now committed to providing a better deal for the Third World through both his FiveG clothing range and the Steve Redgrave Fund which raised £5 million in five years. His charity work addresses problems associated with lack of exercise, obesity, social inclusion and confidence among children and young people in Britain.
I’ve had it. If anyone sees me near a boat they can shoot me. (After winning his 4th gold).

7. Paavo Nurmi (FIN) - Considered the greatest Track & Field athlete of all time, Nurmi won a total of nine gold and three silver medals in the 12 events in which he competed at the Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928. Nurmi has won the most Olympic medals in Track & Field, 12 total. In 1932, Nurmi was unable to compete at the Olympics, as he had received money for his running and was thus considered a professional. (Born 1987, died 1973). Mind is everything. Muscle - pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.

8. Emil Zátopek (CZE) - was probably best known for his amazing feat of winning three gold medals in athletics at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki . He won gold in the 5 km and 10 km runs, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the first marathon of his life. In total Zátopek won five gold and one silver medals at the Olympics. (Born 1922, died 2000).
Great is the victory, but the friendship is all the greater.

9. Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) - Jackie Joyner-Kersee has amassed 20 records in the heptathlon and long jump and has won three Olympic gold medals (2 silver, 1 bronze). Off the track, she is a business executive who runs her own sports-marketing firm. Her Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation sponsors programs for disadvantaged youth and has raised more than $12 million to build a safe haven for young people to come learn, play, and contribute back to their community.
The medals don’t mean anything and the glory doesn’t last. It’s all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing.

10. Nadia Comaneci (ROM) - One of the world’s best known Gymnasts, Comaneci was the first gymnast to receive a perfect 10 in Olympic competition. At 14, this Romanian dynamo captured the hearts and minds of the world with her daring and perfection. More recently, as contributing editor of International Gymnast Magazine, she is still very involved in her sport. She speaks five languages and is a TV commentator at major gymnastics competitions. Nadia has spoken at the UN, is involved with the Special Olympics and Muscular Dystrophy Association. She has also personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comaneci Children’s Clinic, a clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children. Currently she is Honorary Consul General of Romania to the United States to deal with bilateral relations between the two nations.
Hard work has made it easy. That is my secret. That is why I win.

11. Roger Bannister (GBR) - At the time, many well educated people strongly believed that it was not possible to run a mile in less than four minutes.  However, Banister’s determination and spirit resulted in him proving the doubters wrong, running 3:59.4 for the 1609 metres in 1954 . Since his success, thousands of others have followed in his footsteps. Sir Bannister doesn’t rate his famous run as his greatest achievement, instead he cites his "subsequent 40 years of practicing as neurologist and some of the new procedures he introduced as being more significant."
The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.

12. Vitaly Scherbo (RUS) - Arguably the greatest or most successful male gymnast of all time, he is the only male gymnast ever to have won a world or Olympic title in all eight events: at the 1992 Olympics , he won 6 of 8 events (team, all-around, and 4 of 6 event finals - more golds at a single Olympics than any other gymnast in Olympic history); and at various World Championships throughout his competitive years, he collectively won every event. He now runs the Vitaly Scherbo School Of Gymnastics in Las Vegas.

13. Dan Jansen (USA) - Over the course of his career, Jansen skated eight world records over 500m and 1000m, however, his mid-race falls during 1988 and 1992 Olympic races gained him notoriety for failing despite being favorite. After years of heart break, Jansen finally won an Olympic gold in his final race in 1994 in a world record time. He set up the Dan Jansen Foundation in memory of his sister, with the purpose of fighting leukemia. He is also a supporter of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation where he is a honorary board member.
I remember standing on that podium, … and for the first time probably before or since, wishing our national anthem had more verses.

14. Martina Navratilova (CZE/USA) - Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Navratilova is involved with various charities that benefit animal rights, underprivileged children, and gay rights. Navratilova Vs Evert video .
The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are their worst.

15. Chris Evert (USA) - Evert also won 18 grand slam titles including three Wimbledons, seven French Opens, two Australian Opens and six U.S. Opens. Evert’s graceful appearance, quiet demeanor, outward appearance of gracious sportsmanship, and positive public image made her a favorite with the media and fans. Evert currently operates a tennis academy bearing her name in Boca Raton, Florida where she lives with husband and golfer Greg Norman.
I was very, very shy as a younger girl, just petrified of people. Tennis helped give me an identity and made me feel like somebody.

16. Arnold Schwarzenegger (AUT/USA) - Arny’s sheer size , action-hero movie roles and great accent has seen him transcend sport. Schwarzenegger, the current Governor of California, is also among the richest in the list with as much as $200 million in assets on conservative estimates. He donates his Governor’s salary of $175,000 per year to charities.
For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.

17. John Maclean (AUS) - The first athlete in a wheelchair to swim the English channel, complete the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon and the Molokai Challenge (ocean kayaking). He also rowed at the Beijing Paralympics (Silver medal), completed a Sydney-Hobart yacht race and was in the Australian Olympic Team in 2000 where he was a finalist in the 1500m wheelchair race. Maclean puts back into sport with gusto as well, especially via his John Maclean Foundation which provides support and assistance to Australian wheelchair users under the age of 18.
From thinking there was no way I could go on, I was now thinking there was no way I could not.

18. Dara Torres (USA) - Torres won three Silver Medals in the pool at the Beijing Olympics. Unremarkable in this field, but she was 41 years old and the mother of a two-year old. In total, Torres is a nine-time Olympic medalist (four gold, four silver, four bronze), first taking gold in the 4 x 100m at the 1984 Olympics in LA. She has also won at least one medal in each of the five Olympics in which she has competed, making her one of only a handful of Olympians to earn medals in five different Games.
I feel like I have so many middle-aged women who look up to me. I want them to feel proud, and feel like they can do what they set out to do.  I would never do anything to disappoint these women.

19. Jenny Thompson (USA) - The 10-Time Olympic Swimming Medalist and has won the most medals by any U.S. female Olympic athlete. Of late, Thompson received her medical degree and now works as an anesthesiologist in Boston.

20. Annika Sorenstam (SWE) - The most dominant player in women’s golf. Throughout her career , she has established new records in the LPGA (72 wins) and Ladies European Tour, won countless awards and events, and brought unprecedented attention to women’s golf. Her achievements have changed how women’s golf is played, covered and viewed, and in her rise to mainstream athlete and celebrity, she has had a positive impact on all women’s sports. Her Annika Foundation is "dedicated to providing inspirational experiences, and educational and financial resources that will help children in need to realize their full potential".
If you think about it, the golf ball doesn’t know which country you’re in.

21. Wayne Gretsky (CAN) - Called the greatest player of all time and despite his unimpressive stature, strength, and speed, Gretzky’s intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled. He was adept at dodging checks from opposing players, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time. His current activities include TV and movie appearances, endorsements, a restaurant in his own name and the Wayne Gretzky Foundation which had raised over $1 million dollars in support of youth in hockey.
A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

22. Dean Karnazes (USA) - This ultra-fit man most recently made big news for running 50 marathons in 50 states of the US in 50 days. He used the runs to send the message to Americans to get off the couch and reclaim their health . His charity, Karno Kids, aims to improve youths’ health and wellness and preserve the environment and open spaces.
Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.

23. Tiger Woods (USA) - Just saying his first name is enough to know who. Tiger demands respect - so far he’s won 14 majors and been the No 1 golfer the longest. His list of achievements is longer than his drive and which, in turn, has driven massive earnings. Hence, his charitable actions include the Tiger Woods Foundation (focusing on youth development), the Tiger Woods Learning Center (a school in California), and contributions through golf events and a concert which bears his name. And when all his activities tire him, there’s his sports drink, Gatorade Tiger. Listen to Earl Woods talk about Tiger.
Tiger is no longer a candidate for this list due to his indiscretions.

24.  Erik Weihenmayer (USA) - The first blind person to climb Mt Everest in 2001, Weihenmayer has since climbed the seven tallest peaks on each continent. Erik’s feats have earned him an ESPY award, recognition by Time Magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001, an ARETE Award for the superlative athletic performance of the year, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award, Nike’s Casey Martin Award, and the Freedom Foundation’s Free Spirit Award. He speaks to audiences on harnessing the power of adversity, the importance of a "rope team," and the daily struggle to pursue your dreams.
People get trapped into thinking about just one way of doing things.

25. Rocky Balboa (USA) - Ok, ok, the Sylvester Stallone character in these six movies is fictional, but Rocky’s rugged tenacity has inspired millions to fight with their heart. Who can’t remember the running up the stairs montage!
Yo Adrian!

How’d we go? Did we leave out your favorite inspirational athlete? Your comments are also welcome.

No related posts.

Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+5 rating, 7 votes)
Loading ... Loading ...
Category : Sport-General / Sports Psychology


Chris December 16, 2008

Did you forget about Steve Prefontaine? I’d put him at 3rd or 4th.

Chris December 16, 2008


Michael January 7, 2009

@Chris - thanks for reminding us - Pre was truly a tough one. Of course these are just our selections - we might aim to get a vote going in the future.

Anand February 4, 2009

Such a list would be incomplete without Arthur Ashe. Beating all odds to become the first African American to win the US Open and Wimbledon. Fighting against apartheid and raising awareness of AIDs, created 3 foundations and authored 2 books, what’s not to be inspired about him.

Rose July 22, 2009

How about Laird Hamilton? The man’s pure awesomeness.

Matt July 23, 2009

How about Tony Hawk?

ian July 27, 2009

I’d add:

Bjorn Borg
Roger Federer
Cristiano Ronaldo
Michael Schumacher
Gary Sobers

And how can you have Evert and Navratilova, but not have Billie Jean?


MKB August 22, 2009

Roger Federer
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brian Lara
Usain Bolt-******

jo September 5, 2009

Jackie Robinson

Grace January 3, 2010

I think TIger Woods should be removed after his sex scandal!

shae January 26, 2010

i feel the tiger woods thing should be let go he’s still a good athlete

cam January 28, 2010

Tiger woods is still one of the greatest athletes of all time. his career, life and achievements should not be disgarded because of indiscretions. All athletes make mistakes, it is only the media that decides which athletes are to be scrutinized more than others.

Jordan February 11, 2010

Tiger Woods is one of the greatest athletes of all time, are all of his accomplishments dismissed?

I highly respect Tiger.

James February 13, 2010

Terry Fox???

brigid February 17, 2010

i think usain bolt should be added and my “idol” rebecca soni and olpic swimmer who won the gold in womens swimming

Joseph Wallace February 19, 2010

Tiger is only Human. People make mistakes. Why are we making this issue more than what it should be. He only owes his wife an explanation. I am against the media and everyone else putting these atheletes in the spotlight to live a perfect life.

Chris February 23, 2010

Kurt Warner?

I agree with the comment made about the media and athletes. How can agassi be up there when he was a meth head? I think he is still great though however the way things are presented in the media will still change opinions.

Alex March 19, 2010

How can Agassi be up there? Are you kidding me? Try the fact that he has raised over 90 million dollars for at risk children, sending them to college through his Preparatory Academy. Try the fact that he has won 8 grand slams and the most ATP Masters Series titles, at 17.

So what, you take drugs for a year and that excuses any good you ever do for people? Take a look in the mirror before being so quick to criticize.

garry cheema March 24, 2010

few names you miss Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah (Inspirational Athlete of the Year 2002),Diego Armando Maradona,Edison Arantes do Nascimento (pele),Michael Jeffrey Jordan,dhyan_chand (indian hockey), Brian Charles Lara (cricket) names are enough but still if you do not know them just google their achievements otherwise the list is great thanx .

Michael G April 27, 2010

Larry Bird?
The definition of an athlete
or magic johnson,

Juan June 9, 2010

hey you forgot Pyrros Dimas one of the greatest weight lifters!

Nick Carson June 20, 2010

You said inspirational, not what athlete is the MOST talented. INSPIRATIONAL is the key word. And do you mean inspirational AND he/she was an athlete? Or, do you mean an athlete who happens to be inspirational? Big difference. With that said , listed below is my choices.

I would have to say Brian Piccolo who played with the Chicago Bears along side Gale Sayers. Piccolo continued to play while fighting cancer until he couldn’t play any longer.

I would also add Rocky Blier running back during the 70’s for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a Vietnam veteran who got discharged than went into the NFL. Now that’s inspirational.

royalfuzziness June 20, 2010

What about the great Billy Williams and Ernie Banks from the Chicago CUBS

Sallie June 20, 2010

Your list is good but not great. Tiger Woods is more of a man than any other man on your list!!! He will and far most be back on the TOP! It’s people like you who think no one can make a mistake. He stood up and faced it and believe me, he’s back!!!

Scott Gray June 20, 2010

Jesse Owens should definitely be on this list.

TMac June 29, 2010

You omit Tiger, but these guys are in your Top 5????

1. Lance Armstrong (Extramarital Affairs)
2. Muhammad Ali (Extramarital Affairs)
3. Michael Jordan (Extramarital Affairs)
4. Michael Phelps (Smoked Cannabis)
5. Andre Agassi (Crystal Meth User)

BTW…..I respect them all for the athletic skills.

Hawls July 9, 2010

Inspiring? Petra Majdič is a cross country skier from slovenia, where she had access to limited training equipment and facilities when she got started in the sport. Regardless, she managed to win 20 world cups in her career. While warming up for the sprint in the Vancouver Olympics, however, she fell into a ravine next to the trail that was around 3 meters deep and landed on rocks. She managed to make it back from the hospital in time to race and skied hard enough to qualify for the finals, which meant skiing the course a grueling four times. She won a bronze. She had broken 5 ribs and collapsed a lung in the fall. Baller.

James September 3, 2010

More must be said about Terry Fox. He was a 20 year old Canadian who lost one of his legs to cancer. He decided to run across Canada in order to raise money for cancer research. He ran a marathon/ day, 7 days/ week for 143 days with a prosthetic leg until the cancer spread to his lungs killing him. He never finished his “Marathon of Hope.” In the past 30 years his foundation, which has no corprate links, has raised over $340 million for cancer research. Every year hundreds of thousands gather in over 53 countries around the world for the annual Terry Fox run. An astonishing amount of individuals have been inspired by what Terry did. One example is Rick Hanson who became the first person to circle the world in his wheel chair to raise money for spinal cord injuries.

usaain bolt September 7, 2010

he would forget usain bolt mann dammn no one can run faster than him 3 world records in one olympics and broke his record again twice man and don`t forget ma man lebron james and carmelo anthony

Sid November 8, 2010

wers Haile Gebreselassie?

racerjames87 November 10, 2010

how bout’ manny pacquiao? he’s d best boxer in the whole world…. i guess he could partly give his word’

Chantel November 13, 2010

What about Kolonics György, not very famous unless your involved in sprint kayak, or your hungarian, but he is definitely one of my faves. he died doing what he dedicated his whole life to. he also went to five summer olympics, and medalled in like every race he entered….RIP…

Jimmy November 19, 2010

Seems like all those on the list are great achievers with amazing talents. I do not doubt their desire and motivation, but compare these with nobodies like Ben Comen, Team Hoyt, Dustin Carter, J Mac, etc. their stories might not beat these guys for inspiration and motivation. Do check them out on http://www.inspiringsportsmotivations.com.

Zach December 16, 2010

Um…why aren’t there any baseball players on here? I’m pretty sure that men like Jackie Robinson who DEFINITELY broke the color barrier should make the list. Baseball does just happen to be America’s pastime. Just think that over for awhile.

Monique February 12, 2011

What about Antonio Nogueira-MMA fighter.
Got run over buy a truck when he was 9.
He was in a coma for 25 days.
Doctors said he wouldn’t make it.
During that time he lost a rib and a severely damaged liver.
He woke up but doctors said he’d never walk again.
10-15 years later he was the world heavy weight champion.

Todd Gack February 19, 2011

Alexander Medved - gold at 3 olympics in rfeestyle wrestling, gold at world championships 7 times.

Dan Gable, Gold Medal freestyle wrestling (no one scored any points on him at the olympics)

Buvaisar Satiev - 3 Olympic golds freestyle wrestling - 6 time gold medalist at the world championships

Yojiro Uetake 2 Olympic Golds freestyle wrestling undefeated in college

John Smith - 2 olympic golds freestyle wrestling - 4 golds at world championships

Cael Sanderson, undefeated in college wrestling and won gold medal at olympics

Haile Gebreselassie - best distance runner ever (for his world record in the marathon he averaged 4.7 minutes per mile for 26 miles)

Zydrunas Savickas - strongest man ever

Dave Scott - triathalete best in the world in the 80’s and 90’s then made a comback in his late 30’s or 40’s and his times had improved.

Felix Savon - boxer

Secretariat - racehorse

Todd Gack February 19, 2011

Almost forgot Jim Thorpe, and Carl Lewis, and Bobby Fishcher.

Jimmy February 28, 2011

I think Phelps should not be there because of his drugs boo boo… Why not consider greats like Edwin Moses? Ten years of running without losing. Plus working charity.

Po March 10, 2011

ray lewis

“theres nothing i wont give up. theres no play i take a break on. if a man can fight for a life. then i can go out and fight for a game.”

“it dont matter about me. what matters is me sacrificing for you., for the ultimate goal which is us.”

qwerty March 11, 2011

mike tyson
sachin tendulkar

chris March 28, 2011

i simply cannot believe that the great Brazilian footballer Ronaldo is not on this list. in the 90’s he captivated the globe with some of the most breathtaking football seen since Maradonna.
in 1999 he suffered a horrific knee injury which doctors gave him a 50% chance from ever playing again. he replied to doctors fears by single handedly winning the world cup for Brazil in 2002. in all, he has suffered 3 major knee injuries and had to battle media criticism about his weight and yet, he has won FIFA player of the year 3 times and is the world cups highest goalscorer of all time. he is admired by millions around the world for his perseverance. he is known by many as a very softly spoken humble man who has an internationally recognized charity for helping under privileged children. he is also a UN ambassador and one of the only athletes in history to meet pope john Paul the second.

a truly inspirational man and career.

emily April 5, 2011

what about Bethany Hamilton? She lost an arm and tried hard and achieved her dream.

Leave a comment

About Us

We're sports professionals writing about our experiences, tips and advice on training and competing in high performance sport.

Subscribe to get the latest from us in your inbox!

Your email:

Subscribe   Unsubscribe

Contact Us

michael.blackburn at sportsmindskills.com