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Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics

An athlete is most commonly a person who competes in one or more sports involving physical strength, speed, power, or endurance. Sometimes, the word "athlete" is used to refer specifically to sport of athletics competitors, i.e. including track and field and marathon runners but excluding e.g. swimmers, footballers or basketball players. However in other contexts (mainly in the United States) it is used to refer to all athletics (physical culture) participants of any sport. For the latter definition, the word sportsperson or its gendered sportsman or sportswoman are also used. A third definition is also sometimes used meaning anyone who is physically fit regardless of whether or not they compete in a sport.[1][2]

Athletes may be professionals or amateurs.[3] Most professional athletes have particularly well-developed physiques obtained by extensive physical training and strict exercise, accompanied by a strict dietary regimen.


Runners, ceramics, S. IV a.C.
Athletes taking part in a race on a snowy park in the U.S.

The word "athlete" is a romanization of the Greek: άθλητὴς, athlētēs, meaning one who participates in a contest; from ἄθλος, áthlos or ἄθλον, áthlon, meaning a contest or feat. The primary definition of "sportsman" according to Webster's Third Unabridged Dictionary (1960) is, "a person who is active in sports: as (a): one who engages in the sports of the field and especially in hunting or fishing."


Athletes involved in isotonic exercises have an increased mean left ventricular end-diastolic volume and are less likely to be depressed.[4][5] Due to their strenuous physical activities, athletes are far more likely than the general population to visit massage salons and pay for services from massotherapists and masseurs.[6] Athletes whose sport requires endurance more than strength usually have a lower calorie intake than other athletes.[7]

"Athlete Genes"

While athleticism is largely influenced by environmental factors, it has been theorized that genetic expression may play a moderate role in an athlete's abilities as well.[8] Exploring this claim, meta-analyses of studies regarding two specific genes, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) gene and ACTN3, concluded that certain variations in expression may have a moderate effect on athletic performance; the former being more prevalent in endurance-based events and the latter in power-based events.[9][10] Further studies on these and other genetic polymorphisms linked to athletic performance were recommended.


"All-round athlete"

An "all-round athlete" is a person who competes in multiple sports at a professional level. Examples of people who played more than one sport professionally include Jim Thorpe, Lionel Conacher,[11][12] Deion Sanders, Danny Ainge, Babe Zaharias and Erin Phillips. Others include Ricky Williams, Bo Jackson and Damon Allen, each of whom was drafted both by Major League Baseball and by professional gridiron football leagues such as the NFL and the CFL. Another female example is Heather Moyse, a multiple Winter Olympic gold medalist in bobsled and member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame who also represented Canada internationally in track cycling and competed at university level in basketball and track and field. Japanese athletes such as Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuyuki Fujita, Masakatsu Funaki and Naoya Ogawa have successfully performed in professional wrestling and competed in mixed martial arts.

"World's Greatest Athlete"

The title of "World's Greatest Athlete" traditionally belongs to the world's top competitor in the decathlon (males) and heptathlon (females) in track and field. The decathlon consists of 10 events: 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110 m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500 m. The heptathlon consists of seven events: the 100 m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin, and 800 meters. These competitions require an athlete to possess the whole spectrum of athletic ability in order to be successful, including speed, strength, coordination, jumping ability, and endurance.

Although the title "World's Greatest Athlete" seems a natural fit for these two events, its traditional association with the decathlon/heptathlon officially began with Jim Thorpe. During the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe won the gold medal in the Decathlon (among others). Thorpe competed professionally in baseball, American football, and basketball; and competed collegiately in track and field, baseball, lacrosse, and did ballroom dancing. King Gustav V of Sweden, while awarding Thorpe the decathlon gold, said: "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."[13] This title has been associated with the decathlon event ever since.

See also


  1. ^ "athlete in British English". Collins Dictionary. 1. a person trained to compete in sports or exercises involving physical strength, speed, or endurance 2. a person who has a natural aptitude for physical activities 3. (mainly British) a competitor in track and field events
  2. ^ "Definition of athlete noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries.
  3. ^ Collins English Dictionary, Millennium Ed. - 'athlete'
  4. ^ MORGANROTH, JOEL, et al. "Comparative left ventricular dimensions in trained athletes." Annals of Internal Medicine 82.4 (1975): 521–524.
  5. ^ Oler, Michael J., et al. "Depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use among adolescents. Are athletes at less risk?." Archives of Family Medicine 3.9 (1994): 781–785.
  6. ^ Jönhagen, Sven, et al. "Sports massage after eccentric exercise Archived 2020-09-28 at the Wayback Machine." The American Journal of Sports Medicine 32.6 (2004): 1499–1503.
  7. ^ Thompson, Paul D.; Cullinane, Eileen M.; Eshleman, Ruth; Sady, Stanley P.; Herbert, Peter N. (1984). "The effects of caloric restriction or exercise cessation on the serum lipid and lipoprotein concentrations of endurance athletes". Metabolism. 33 (10): 943–950. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(84)90249-X. PMID 6482736.
  8. ^ "Sportsbay alternatives".
  9. ^ Puthucheary, Zudin; Skipworth, James R. A.; Rawal, Jai; Loosemore, Mike; Van Someren, Ken; Montgomery, Hugh E. (2011-06-01). "The ACE Gene and Human Performance". Sports Medicine. 41 (6): 433–448. doi:10.2165/11588720-000000000-00000. ISSN 1179-2035. PMID 21615186. S2CID 42531424.
  10. ^ Ma, Fang; Yang, Yu; Li, Xiangwei; Zhou, Feng; Gao, Cong; Li, Mufei; Gao, Lei (2013-01-24). "The Association of Sport Performance with ACE and ACTN3 Genetic Polymorphisms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". PLOS ONE. 8 (1): e54685. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...854685M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054685. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3554644. PMID 23358679.
  11. ^ Burnett, Red (April 26, 1963). "Testimonial for Bob Abate". Toronto Daily Star. p. 17. Retrieved April 19, 2024 – via
  12. ^ "Lionel Conacher easily wins half century athlete award". Vancouver Sun. 1950-12-30. Retrieved 2011-01-24.
  13. ^ Flatter, Ron. "Thorpe preceded Deion, Bo". Retrieved 11 December 2020.
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