When considering victories in the Olympic Games, World Championships for various sports, and other prominent sporting competitions, the United States of America is undoubtedly the most successful nation in the history of sport; yet there are five athletes who I believe stand out. Based on their achievements and records, I consider these five athletes to be the top five American athletes of all time.
Tom Brady, the former New England Patriots quarterback, made sporting headlines recently with his move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his twenty seasons with the New England Patriots, Brady established himself as a true legend of the NFL. Brady has won six Super Bowls, more than any other player in NFL history, and was named MVP in four of these victories, another NFL record. Beyond the Super Bowl, Brady has led the Patriots to seventeen divisional titles, more than any other QB. Add on to this already impressive record the fact that he holds the record for both career passing yards and career touchdown passes and you can quite easily see why Brady is undoubtedly the most successful quarterback in the history of the NFL and, in my opinion, is the greatest American Football player ever. I therefore regard Tom Brady as the fifth greatest American athlete of all time.
In 2018 Ruth was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump
Following a turbulent childhood spent in an orphanage, Babe Ruth entered Major League Baseball, becoming a true hero of American sporting culture and many have argued that he is the greatest baseball player of all time. Ruth proved himself to be a true all-rounder of the sport and enjoyed success at his first team, the Boston Red Sox as both a pitcher and an outfielder. Ruth enjoyed his greatest success, however, after his move to the New York Yankees in 1919. Throughout his fifteen seasons with the Yankees, he helped them win seven American League Pennants and four World Series Championships. Ruth also set countless records, including for slugging percentage and on base plus slugging, both of which still stand to this day. Ruth’s almighty legacy endures, and in 2018 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump. Ruth slots in at number four in my list.
Few would dispute Muhammad Ali’s famous claim in 1964 that “I am the Greatest”. Starting his boxing career in the Olympics, Ali won a gold model at the 1960 Games and subsequently turned professional. To this day, Ali remains the only three-time lineal champion of the heavyweight division. Many consider Ali to be the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He was ranked as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, while the BBC awarded him the title of Sports Personality of the Century. Ali was also a prominent conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and famously refused the draft. This has seen him become a 1960s counterculture icon, and ranked third in my list of America’s greatest athletes.
Accompanying this incredible Grand Slam record is four Olympic gold medals
One of the greatest players in modern tennis, Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles across her illustrious career, the most of any player in the Open Era. Williams has proved herself to be a true surface all-rounder and is the most recent player to have won a Grand Slam title on each playing surface in one calendar year. Alongside her sister Venus, Serena has also enjoyed much success in doubles competition. The two sisters have won fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles together and the pair remain unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals. Accompanying this incredible Grand Slam record is four Olympic gold medals, proving that Serena Williams truly deserves to be ranked among the best athletes of all time, never mind just from America.
In my opinion, the greatest American athlete of all time is undoubtedly Michael Phelps. The now former swimmer is the most decorated Olympian of all time with a record 23 gold medals to his name. Despite entering retirement following the 2012 Olympics, Phelps made a comeback in the 2016 games where he was afforded the honour of being the United States flag bearer at the Parade of Nations. Phelps, as an individual athlete, has won more Olympic medals in his career than many countries have since the modern Olympics began. He currently holds the record for 400m individual medley but previously held many more records in other events. Phelps has also been named World Swimmer of the Year eight times and American Swimmer of the Year eleven times. He is also an active philanthropist and in 2008 set up the Michael Phelps Foundation to promote swimming and healthy lifestyles.