Wayne Gretzky is NOT One of the Greatest Athletes of All Time

We get comments all the time stating that we are idiots for [including, excluding] a particular items on a list or ranking a particular item so [high, low] and because of it, the list in question [is not accurate, is biased, sucks].

As stated before, these inaccuracies and biases are simply part of the system and hopefully over time they will naturally correct themselves.

Unfortunately, on our list of the Greatest Athletes of All Time, this philosophy seems to be failing. And while we are not going to adjust the numbers to try righting the wrongs we perceive on the list, we do want to clean our hands of the list. In our minds, what you see on that list is not the intention of the list and the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of you guys out there.

As stated quite explicitly in the list description, the list of Greatest Athletes of All Time is to determine which people possess the greatest share of all the traits such as speed, quickness, strength, coordination, stamina, etc. that define athleticism. It is not supposed to be a list of the people who are the best at their individual sport which is what is has devolved into being.

Honestly folks, Wayne Gretzky the fourth greatest athlete of all time? Who are you kidding? While there is little doubt that Gretzky was one of if not the best hockey players ever, he did not reach such lofty heights because of athleticism. Gretzky was 6 foot nothing and 180 pounds. He was never even the top athletic specimen on his own team. There were always people who skated faster and shot harder. Gretzky got by on intelligence and knowledge of the game. If you put Gretzky on the list of greatest athletes of all time, then you might as well include Garry Kasparov on the list too.

And Gretzky isn't the only one on the list we take objection too. How about Lance Armstrong? Even after the list description explicitly singles him out as NOT one of the greatest athletes of all time, he still comes in a 16. And why? Because he is a highly accomplished cyclist who also ran a marathon? I'm sorry, but just because he was a great cyclist does not make him a great athlete. Compared to other sports, cycling is extremely one dimensional. And running a marathon? LOTS of people run marathons. In fact over 800 people who ran the NYC marathon with Armstrong had faster times and they didn't have a camera crew and or expert team of pace setters helping them along.

But why stop there. The list keeps going. How about:

Nolan Ryan - If Armstrong doesn't belong on the list because he is a one dimensional athlete, then how in the world does Nolan Ryan make the list? It's hard enough rationalizing adding a person to the list based purely on their skills as a baseball player. Adding a player who plays one highly specialized position every fifth game is even harder.

Michael Johnson - Same rationale as above. Michael Johnson does one thing very well; he runs very fast for short distances. But that's not really enough. By comparison, along with being one of the greatest running backs of all time, NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker also competed in the bobsled even in the 1992 Winter Olympics, is a sixth-degree black belt in tae kwon do, and ran the 100m in 10.22 seconds. Michael Johnson's personal best at the 100m is 10.09 seconds. So is 13 hundredths of a second really enough to make him the second greatest athlete of all time?

Reinhold Messner - On the list because he was the first to climb all 14 of the highest mountains on earth and because he is the only person to climb Everest solo with supplemental oxygen: two accomplishments that make him a star in the Guinness Book of World Records but not a great athlete. Others have climbed all 14 peaks and many more have climbed Everest without oxygen.

James J. Braddock -Great story, yes. A greatest athlete of all time? Hardly. Braddock was a heavyweight title holder for a couple of years in the mid 1930's and ended his career with a record of 51 wins and 26 losses. He is one of a hundred other boxers who have held the title and not even close to the upper echelon of that list.

Tiger Woods - On the list because he dominates the sport of golf. Really? Do we need to say anything more here. He is a great athlete because he is able to perform better than physical specimens like Colin Montgomerie and John Daly?

Basically what we are seeing is that people are being added to the list based on popularity or dominance in a particular sport. But it is not a list of the favorite athletes or most dominant athletes. It is a list of the greatest athletes. Unfortunately, however, it is not being treated as such and as a result, the validity of the list results is regrettable.


Wow...your rationale is so logical. I hope that all people make their way to this blog before they complain. - Christian.H.Mills

o yeah he is - visitor

How can you possibly say that Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong are not two of the greatest athletes of all time????Both show incredible levels of strength, agility and speed in their given sports. Your rationale is pathetic - steve07

Gretzky is undoubtably the greatest athlete in history. He has big cahunas too! - visitor

Isn't it enough that he scored more than 200 points in a season? Do you expect him to score 300 points? Get a Life! - visitor

so i know that everybody who looks at this site is biased for basketball, baseball or football, i am fan of all sports, but i have to say that wayne gretzky is one of the greatest athletes of all time, i'm blown away by the ignorance that people have to say that he is not of the best. Hockey is possibly the hardest professional sport to play, like basketball you are constantly working and moving, the season is one of the longest seasons of all profesional sports, going from october until june, and unlike basketball it also has an extreme physicaly punishing aspect to the game, football is the only sport that surpasses hockey in the night in and night out hits you take. Not only that but there few other athletes who have changed the record book of their respective sports like wayne gretzky did, and his most of his records still stand! One would be suprised to learn how much skill is actually involved in being a good goal scorer in hockey. Wayne Gretzky is undoubtably one of the greatest athletes of all time - visitor

I must disagree. If a guy that plays a major sport is TWICE as good as everyone else who ever played (more assists than anyone else ever has POINTS), then you must be saying that NO hockey player is an athlete. I hope you're not saying that. - visitor

Screw You!
Wayne is the the best hockey player ever and best athlete - jamie30jamer

Hockey is a sport of exhaustion not sitting and hitting a golf ball anyone can do that even a 90 year old loser with no backbone - visitor

hockey players are not athletes - visitor

I think that people should put Bo Jackson at number 1 because he played arguably the hardest position in 2 professional sports, baseball and football. - waterboy51

my only comment is that if you ever played soccer and knew of pele and what he did in his career, there would be no doubt in any of your minds that he is the greatest athlete of all time. he scored over 1200 goals in his career in about 1300 games. he helped brazil win three world cups and is considered a national treasure of brazil. he is unquestionably ranked #1 in the world in soccer by fifa, and many other pollers. mohammed ali paid tribute to him at his final game at meadowlands stadium before he retired from the cosmos. think about this. he was the hero of the world of soccer from his first entrance onto the world cup at age 17 where he scored 6 goals and inspired his team to win until today he is the ambassador of soccer. his name means king. pele is king. - visitor

Wayne Gretzky was a great, great player but he isn't even close to the top of my list of the most exciting players I ever saw play a sport. Lets be honest, he was the Larry Bird equivalent to hockey. Great passer and great scorer but that alone doesn't lift me off my seat. The Michael Jordan of Hockey was Bobby Orr. More people saw Wayne Gretzky play than saw Booby Orr so most people are blind to what Bobby Orr did. I have been watching sports for 40 years and my list of most exciting lift me off my seat and leave me in awe:

Michael Jordan
Bobby Orr
Dr. J
Barry Sanders
Tiger Woods
Bo Jackson
Roberto Duran
Bjorn Borg
Deon Sanders
Roger Clemens - visitor

There is another issue with the list not just that 1 dimensional athletes (And Mainly US athletes) are pushing up into the list. And that is the use of the term "All Time"

Surely there were people who were athletes before the 1900's. Surely some of the greatest athletes of ALL TIME come from before the 1600's even. What about some of the Gladiators of their time?

If you say "Yeah but we judge them we have no records and there is no recordings of their feats" then you are 100% correct. But you must also admit that its not only possible but incredibly probably that comparitively athletes from before the 1800's would make this list if we knew about them.

You can't keep touting this as the greatest athletes of ALL TIME. Because you can't possibly think that all of the greatest athletes of all time come from the last 150 years. That's stupid. - visitor

... 5 Bobby Orr's would annihilate 5 Wayne Gretzky's ... end of story! - visitor

... 'greatness' is less difficult to quantify in the case of athletes such as Woods, Armstrong and Federer ... but in team sports, it is much more complicated due to the importance of the supporting cast ... a 'great' example would be Ted Williams, had he played for the Yankees and had DiMaggio played for the Sox there would be zero discussion as to who was the 'greatest' (but that's a discussion for a different forum) ...

... when I attempt to defend a team player as being the 'greatest', I create a hypothetical team of that player, in other words 5 Wayne Gretzky's vs. 5 Bobby Orr's ... most of you guys have probably never seen Orr play but for those of us who have seen both it is fairly clear who deserves the honor ... there are not many athletes who are considered a 'complete package' and it is difficult to ignore the fact that although Orr was a defenseman, he managed to win the scoring title (twice, no less) and is considered to have changed the way an entire sport is played ...

... the fact is, both of these athletes were 'great' but, in my hypothetical little world of 5 Wayne Gretzky's vs. 5 Bobby Orr's, I'm sorry Oh-Great-One but without your support staff I'm afraid Mr. Orr would annihilate you ...

... for those of you with open minds see the following link: http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016391.html - bobbyg

Five Bobby Orr's would beat Five Wayne Gretzky's? I'm not so sure. The five Gretzky's would barely have to move, and could pass the puck around the five Orr's much faster than the five Orr's could skate circles around the five Gretzky's. With the intelligence of five Gretzky's out there, I would have to think that the greatest hockey mind (time five) that ever played would have a heyday playing off itself! Gretzky was amazing because he knew where everyone was and would be at all times, so I couldn't imagine how amazing five of them would be all in synch. I don't even think a team of five Orr's could stop that. - visitor

Any list of the greatest athlete of all time that
doesn"t include Gordie Howe or Maurice(the Rocket)
Richard is absolutely useless. The Rocket was not in the top ten of the most exciting players of all time-because in the category of most exciting he was
in a class all by himself - beyond number one!
- visitor

You're saying intelligence, knowledge and awareness are not a part of athleticism? That's the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Quickness, power, speed, endurance, etc. are not enough to make a great athlete. Without intelligence, the guy with all of those attributes will merely be mediocre. - visitor

tiger woods golfs. that is not a sport. gretzky changed hockey michael jordan changed basketball.those are athletes not tiger woods.he just obtains great memory skill.
- visitor

Um, Wayne Gretzky IS one of the greatest. He played hockey. Hockey is a sport. Athletes play sports. He is considered to be, by many, the greatest hockey player ever. His nickname is The Great One. He qualifies. - visitor

I love how you can say tiger woods adds speed and agility to his sport... you stand over a ball hit it and WALK to where you hit it... wayne gretzky was a great hockey player no doubt, but he wasnt faster than other people and wasnt a better shot, he was the most SKILLED hockey player of all time not ATHLETIC. of course they are both players, but based on souly athletic ability which is: speed, agility, hand-eye oordination, stamina, etc neither of them are TOP ATHLETES. just because you love tiger woods doesnt mean he is a greeat athlete. yet, i believe athletisism is not the only aspect and honestly, it should be Greatest PLAYERS of all time and/or most INFLUENTIAL. in that case gretzky should definately be on it(no tiger tho). Whoever said Michael Johnson is better than Michael Jordan is crazy. jordan is one of the best athletic and skilled players EVER as well as some1 who reinvented the sport. Johnson is just fast. And finally, Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson (possibly even Jerry Rice) need to be on it or honorable mentions because they are all extremely athletic as well as extremely skilled. Walker was slightly and i say SLIGHLTY slower than Johnson but an explosive RB who was multi dimensional as a bobsledder too. Bo jackson played lacrosse(non professional) baseball and football and is my personal favorite as an athlete. - visitor

Roger Bannister could not do the required number of push ups to pass an army physical, and Wayne Gretzy scored his goals as much with his mind, as with his body.
On the other hand, one has to have a good measure of "all" the physical attributes associated with athleticism to become a decathlon champion,thus,the best of them must surely be amoungst the greatest athletes of all time.
The former LLoyd Percival of The Fitness Institute tested many a famous sporting figure for all-around fitness. I think Sugar Ray Robinson and Gordie Howe were at the top of his list.

George Carr - visitor

Then what should the list be called?? greatest sportsmen of all time?? A person who plays a sport is considered an athlete. If you wanted to be so technical, you only should have objected to the list in the way you did if it said "Top 10 people with the greatest athletic ability of All time" - visitor

Okay everyone, I was just going to casually peruse this site and then move on, but you have compelled me to contribute. If we are honest with ourselves, we will readily admit that a controversy such as "the greatest athlete ever in ANY sport" is not only scientifically impossible to name, but, no matter how fun and challenging (and I dare anyone to argue me that) it is, our personal picks will be without exception based upon individual knowledge of no more than a handful of sports, personal experience and bias or prejudice regarding no more than that. Now, like it or puke, here's my contribution to the topic. To the person who states that Gretzky is not athletic.-Athletic by their definition encompasses speed, agility, hand/eye coordination and stamina. Lets roll speed & agility together for this one. Throughout his entire career, the biggest, baddest and toughest dudes ever to lace on a pair of skates nearly drove themselves crazy trying to body check #99. To a man they cited the reasons as: his deceptive and highly underrated speed, his innate ability to, at the very last millisecond and all the while in FULL control of the puck, duck, bob weave or seemingly re-animate, and leave the true definition of the word 'agile', incomplete. Think about it. Yes, he was a bit smaller than the average, and every defensively minded opponent yearned for the gold star associated with knocking him on his ass or disrupting his game in ANY way. To concrete my argument, just how many times throughout his long, successful and decorated career was "little, slow, weak agility challenged" Wayne sidelined due to injuries sustained as a result of all of these physical deficiencies? Yeah, I knew you'd say that. Hand/eye coordination? Do you look up any one of the words; blind, ignorant or ridiculous in the dictionary and find nothing but a photo of yourself? My God you nit-wit, Wayne Gretzky is the EPITOME of HEC, and providing you with an example would be pointless and redundant. Dig through the archives and view any video clip you can find with him in it. Examples galore. Oh yeah, stamina. Again, throughout his career, during any clutch game and especially in the playoffs, feel free to dig up the stat's and compare minutes played per game, and even near the end of the second overtime, having logged more ice time than anyone else while dominating the fastest game on the planet, search out a clip and see who hasn't slowed down a stitch. Nobody in recordable history, in any sport, bar none has ever dominated it to the degree that #99 has. He has re-written the record books in his sport unlike anyone has ever done in any other sport, and has done so with more class, grace and humble dignity than anybody anywhere. Many of you list very convincing arguments for a multitude of other phenomenal athletes, and I can't help but agree with the majority of you, and the the reasons you list to back up your choices. See what I mean though? Bias and conjecture drive us to what in the end is nothing more than opinion, but we are humans, and by definition are destined for eternal debate, and that's why life is so goshdamned friggin' fun! BTW, for the record Bobby Orr and Randy Couture, followed closely by Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson pretty much sum up my list........Hunt hard, love and nurture your children and keep your powder dry! . - Norsky812

your an idiot. Ofcoarse Gretzky is the greatest athlete of all-time! just because we was skinny doesn't mean he is not a great athlete! He could have played pro lacrosse or pro baseball and he is a great golfer too! - visitor

Oh yeah? Well, if you were dazed enough to put Gretzky ,Ryan and Armstrong on this list, i'm shocked you didn't put Michael Jordan on it too. Sure, he was great at basketball but he sucked at baseball. Playing Hockey is riskier than football, more fast paced than baseball or basketball and more intelligent than chess because you have to think extremely fast and yet, you put the greatest athlete in that sport (Besides Orr in my opinion) than your off your nut. Gretzky belongs on this list just as much as Jordan or Paavo Nurmi, maybe even more. Same goes to Armstrong,Ryan or even Johnson. - booklover1

I guess logic is not one of your strong points... A man who is 180lbs and only 6 foot tall dominates a sport of physical endurance and is TWICE as good as the next man at his position. Why is he not a great athlete? He has to work harder due to physical deficiencies and achieves twice as much... Wayne Gretzky is by far the greatest athlete of all time in any sport. You should take a class in logic or at least watch some sports on TV. - visitor

you are a moron. - visitor

Any list that doesn't have Gretzky in the top 5 is automatically disqualified, I'm sorry. - visitor

actually your reasoning is why he is. - visitor

Kudos to the admin for leaving this profoundly embarrassing post here for so long—somebody more concerned about looking ridiculous and ignorant would have deleted it long ago and begun denying that it ever existed.

Professional hockey players are exceptionally gifted athletes. Wayne Gretzky is among the best that has ever played. Are you really trying to say that it’s possible to be one of the best players in the history of a sport without being athletic? For him to not be listed among the greatest athletes of all time is to suggest that any old schmoe—Garry Kasparov, for example—could be good at hockey if somebody as unathletic as Wayne Gretzky could actually be even marginally competent at it, much less one of the best players in the history of the game.

You write that “athletic greatness is defined as possessing a variety of attributes that contribute to athletic prowess. These include speed, quickness, endurance, power and hand-eye coordination.” Gretzky had all of these in spades. He didn’t have exceptional upper-body strength, but as with all hockey players, even the skinny Gretzky would have given the strongest NFL players a run for their money when it came to lower-body strength.
- visitor

You are completely discounting the importance of intelligence for an athlete, when it is what separates the all time greats. You are absolutely right, he is not one of the greatest athletes of all time, he is THE greatest. - visitor