Top 10 Best Multi-Sport Athletes That Wrote History and Set New Benchmarks

Tags: #CaitlynnJenner ,   #JimBrown ,   #BoJackson ,   #DeionSanders ,   #Jim Thorpe

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2021-03-11 14:46:40

You may be astonished to learn that many professional athletes have successfully competed at two or more sports. Doing so requires extraordinary talent and a lot of hard work, so our top 10 is another way to honor them. Of course, we had to define rules, so no, we won’t count the athletes who competed in similar sports. This eliminates many racing drivers, including Jacques Villeneuve, who is a Champ Car and a Formula One champion. Still, our list includes many fascinating individuals!

10. Caitlyn Jenner

Bruce Jenner was once recognized as the greatest athlete in the world

Before gender transition, Caitlyn Jenner was Bruce Jenner, one of the most successful decathletes in history. She not only won the Olympic gold in 1976 but was also a world record holder. Jenner also showed massive potential on the football field, earning a football scholarship at the university of Graceland. However, a knee injury forced her to stop playing.

Bruce Jenner's racing career was surprisingly successful, although brief

In the eighties, Jenner surprisingly started her racing driver career in IMSA GT Championship, and in 1986, she won the famous 12 hours of Sebring. The same year, she finished as the second in the championship, only behind the legendary Scott Pruett. However, despite being quite successful, Jenner’s racing career was too short to rank her higher. Still, we rate her better than a boxer and a racer Michael Lowe.

9. Charlie Ward

Ward was an important part of the mighty Knicks team

Charlie Ward wasn’t only an exceptional football player – he was the best in the class! In 1993, he won all the highest individual awards, including the Heisman Trophy. Although he won the National Championship with FSU the same season, his future in the NFL looked grim. When he found out that he would be picked in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, Ward decided it’s time to shift to basketball.

Ward was an excellent QB, but NFL didn't appreciate him much

Even though more talented for football, Ward had a respectable 11-year career, mostly spent in the famous generation of New York Knicks. He was one of the best ball stealers in the league and played in the NBA Finals in 1999. Still, no one forgot what a football talent he was, so the press and fans called him the best quarterback in New York, as both Giants and Jets struggled during the nineties.  Who knows, maybe his face would end up on Madden NFL cover?

8. John Surtees

No one dominated on two wheels like John Surtees did

Yes, we said that racing drivers will be excluded from our list, but racing on a bike and an open wheeler are two radically different things. Surtees became a four-time world champion during his motorcycle career. The Englishman was so dominant that he won an astonishing 32 out of 39 races during his last three seasons! Seeking new challenges, in 1960, he decided to start his Formula 1 career.

John Surtees running his legendary Ferrari F1 car

While no one took him seriously, that changed when he finished second in his sophomore race! He stayed in Formula 1 for 13 seasons and even managed to win the title in 1964. Surtees is the only person to ever become a world champion on both four and two wheels. 

7. Alex Zanardi

Alex Zanardi was dominant in CART, here winning his first title

Alex Zanardi should be a huge inspiration for everyone. The Italian racing driver won the CART championship twice and raced in Formula 1 for five seasons. In 2001 he suffered a horrible injury, after which his legs were amputated. Despite this, he was back on track and continued to win, this time in the prestigious World Tour Car Championship.

Zanardi has tons of gold medals in handcycling

However, that wasn’t enough for him! Zanardi decided to compete in handcycling, and in 2012 and 2016, he won four Paralympic gold and two silver medals. He also has a dozen gold medals won at the World Championships, and once even finished the triathlon event fifth overall!

6. Babe Didrikson Zaharis

Babe Zaharis won three medals at 1932 Olympics

There’s no doubt that Babe Zaharis was the most supremely talented female athlete, excelling at every sport she tried. At the age of only 21, Zaharis collected two gold medals at the Olympic Games, winning the 80 m hurdles race and a javelin throw competition. At the same event, she won the silver medal in the high jump event.

Zaharis competed at the highest level in basketball, baseball and golf

While being a successful baseball and basketball player, she also dominated as a golf player, winning 48 tournaments, including the U.S. Women’s Open three times. Sadly, she died from cancer at the age of 45. It’s not widely known that she was gifted outside sports, as she played multiple instruments and even won a sewing championship.

5. Jim Brown

Jim Brown was a force in every year of his NFL career

Jim Brown spent nine seasons in the NFL as a fullback, and every year he was a Pro Bowler! He won too many rewards to list them all here, but they include those for NFL Rookie of the Year and the NFL championship. His sensational performances on the gridiron led many people to forget that he was exceptionally skilled at track and field, lacrosse, and basketball.

Brown never lost a passion for lacrosse

During his college years, Brown was not only one of the best football players in the country, but also one of the top scorers for the basketball team and named as a lacrosse second-team All-American. He also finished fifth in the national decathlon championship. It’s not hard imagining Jim Brown winning at pretty much anything he ever tried!

4. Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson's NFL career was short, but memorable

It’s hard to argue against the only man in history who was an all-star player in both the NFL and MLB! Jackson demonstrated all his high school talent when competing at the track and field before switching to football and winning the Heisman trophy. Despite being drafted as the first pick in 1986 by Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson stunned the world by deciding to play baseball instead.

Bo was always a major contributor in MLB

Only a year later, he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Raiders, which allowed him to compete in MLB and the NFL at the same time! Jackson had all the freedom he wanted, as he would join the Raiders only after his MLB season was completed. In 1989, Jackson was an MLB all-star, while also having his best season in the NFL. Unfortunately, a play-off injury in 1991 forced him to retire from football, but he stayed in the MLB until 1994.

3. Lionel Conacher

Lionel Conacher could do it all, but hockey was his thing

Lionel Conacher is probably the best multi-sport athlete you’ve never heard of unless you’re a Canadian. While Canadian football was his favorite sport, Conacher was also excellent at baseball, hockey, wrestling, lacrosse, and boxing. In all these sports, he won multiple championships, including two Stanley Cups! Luckily, Canadians never forgot their hero. He entered the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, with separate hockey, lacrosse, and football Hall of Fame entries.

Other members of Conacher family also found success

Conacher is the only athlete that can be easily compared to Jim Thorpe, and with a few Olympic medals, we could put him on top. After his long career, he was also a successful politician but unfortunately, he died aged only 54 while playing a softball game.

2. Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders was a perfect defensive back

Deion Sanders is one of the best defensive backs in history, which seems ridiculous, knowing that he also professionally played baseball at the time! During his illustrious career, he won two Super Bowls, was a Pro Bowler eight times, and a defensive player of the year. However, he always wanted more. Never feeling the need to take a holiday, Sanders would play baseball during the spring and summer, before switching to the NFL for the rest of the year. Miraculously, he did it for the six seasons straight!

As a baseball player, Sanders was always a solid contributor

As an MLB player, Deion Sanders was never an all-star material but was an above-average left and central fielder. In 1992 he played in the World Series and is still the only athlete who ever appeared in the Super Bowl and the World Series. While Bo Jackson was a better baseball player, Deion Sanders is the best multiple-sports athlete of the modern era.

1. Jim Thorpe

Of course that Jim Thorpe dominated pentathlon and decathlon!

There’s no doubt that a hundred years ago, it was much easier to compete in multiple sports. However, even when accounting for that, it’s impossible not to put Jim Thorpe in the first place. While all our athletes were good at two or three sports, Thorpe could do anything. After winning gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games in pentathlon and decathlon, he switched to playing basketball, baseball and football! 

No doubt Thorpe could have easily won more Olympic medals

As a football player, he was one of the best in the league, but he also excelled at baseball. While his basketball career was the shortest and the least successful, no one doubted that he would reach the top if he devoted his career to it. He retired in 1928 at the age of 41, playing his last season for Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals). Unfortunately, all the success didn’t bring him much money. He died in poverty after working as a security guard, construction worker, and even a ditch-digger.

Every single of these athletes did what was thought to be impossible, as they proved that hard work and the will to succeed break all boundaries. Their stories should motivate everyone to do their best in each segment of life!

Who is your favorite multi-sport athlete? Do you think a professional athlete can be successful at two sports in the third decade of the 21st century? Share your opinion with us in the comments.


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