40 Most Successful Athletes of the 21st Century

Source: Adam Pretty / Getty Images

21. Michael Phelps
> Sport: Olympic swimming
> Championships: 23x Olympic gold medal
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 2000-2016
> Other accomplishments: 28 total medals in five Olympics

American swimmer Michael Phelps is by far the most decorated Olympian of all time. He’s won 28 medals, 23 of them gold, at five different Olympic games. Phelps began his Olympic career at just 15 years old in 2000.

Source: Julian Finney / Getty Images

22. Novak Djokovic
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 20x Grand slam
> Team or country: Serbia
> Career length: 2003-present
> Other accomplishments: 362 weeks as #1

Novak Djokovic is staking his claim as the most accomplished men’s tennis player of all time. After winning Wimbledon 2021, he now holds 20 Grand Slam titles. As of March 2022, he has spent 362 weeks as the world’s top-ranked tennis player — the most of any men’s tennis player in history.

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

23. Patrick Kane
> Sport: Hockey
> Championships: 3x Stanley Cup
> Team or country: Chicago Blackhawks
> Career length: 2007-present
> Other accomplishments: 4x All-star, 1x Hart, 1x Conn Smythe

Patrick Kane has more than lived up to expectations as the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. By the time he was 26, Kane had three Stanley Cups and a Ross Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. Even as the Blackhawks have struggled in recent seasons, Kane has continued to perform well.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

24. Peyton Manning
> Sport: Football
> Championships: 2x Super Bowl
> Team or country: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
> Career length: 1998-2015
> Other accomplishments: 14x Pro Bowl, 7x All-Pro, 5x MVP

Peyton Manning more than lived up to the hype of being a top overall pick in the NFL Draft. Manning won five MVP awards and two Super Bowls, one with the Indianapolis Colts and the other with the Denver Broncos.

Source: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

25. Rafael Nadal
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 21x Grand Slam, 2x Olympic gold medal
> Team or country: Spain
> Career length: 2001-present
> Other accomplishments: 209 weeks as #1

Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay, winning 13 French Open championships, which are played on a clay surface. Despite facing stiff competition from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Nadal holds 21 Grand Slam titles — the most of all time. Nadal broke the tie when he won the 2022 Australian Open. Nadal has won each of the four Grand Slam tournaments at least once. He has also represented his home country of Spain at the Olympics, taking home gold in both singles tennis in 2008 and in doubles in 2016.

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