The sports industry always had its icons, regardless of the specific branch we are talking about. We present you here the most influential and widely known running athletes, famous for their contribution to the world of sport and generally acclaimed for their ambition which led them to world wide recognition.
1. Jesse Owens (1913-1980) is an American runner, known for his strong position against Nazism, which he made it very clear during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He considered himself insulted by Nazi propaganda portraying Africans and African-Americans as unworthy of being called human beings. He set three world records during the 25th of May 1935 competition and won 4 gold medals in 1936 Olympics, causing the world to stand in awe in the face of an athlete that stood against every social prejudice cause by Nazism and racism. Today, the most cherished honor an athlete can receive as a top track winner is named after him.
2. Roger Bannister (1929 – present day) is one of the most influential English runners of all time. His most famous record is running the first track mile in under 4 minutes, which was a breakthrough at that time. Roger Bannister won the gold medal in 1954 during the 1 mile race set by the British Empire and he entered the world’s view after he took the gold medal in the European Championships later that year, during the 1,5 mile race. Previously he had missed the medal in 1952 when the Olympics took place and this seemed to have inspired him to break the one mile record of 4 minutes. After achieving his goal, he was widely acclaimed and awarded as Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
3. Abebe Bikila (1932 – 1973) is a well-known Ethiopian athlete who won a marathon gold medal during a 1960 Olympics, running without any shoes. Even more, he was the first African athlete to ever win a gold medal in any Olympics and this made him a superstar virtually overnight. But that was just the beginning. After his success during 1960, he went and won another gold medal in a second Olympic session four years later, in 1964, which was held in Tokyo. This added another world recorded to his portfolio – the first runner to ever win two consecutive Olympic marathons. However, he suffered a massive car accident in 1969 which left him paralyzed and caused serious injuries that killed him 4 years later. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage.
4. Lee Evans (1947 – present day) is an American professional runner mostly known for his memorable performance during the 1968 Olympic. He participated in the 1968 Olympic games decided to win and so he did. Lee Evans set the world record for 400 meter dash and his time of 43.86 seconds kept him in the number one record holder for almost twenty years straight. During the same Olympics, from the anchorman position for his team, he set another world record and won a second gold medal for hi country. In 1983 he was given the honor of becoming a member of United States Track and Field Hall of fame, thus stepping into the history alongside other great athletes.
5. Kathrine Switzer (1947 – present day) is an American marathon female runner setting the stage as the first woman to ever participate in the Boston Marathon as a qualified and competitive athlete. Despite the fact that women were forbidden to participate as registered runners in most of the Marathons held throughout the country, Kathrine Switzer’s persistency paid off and she managed to get a registration number. However, during her first race, an official actually tried to expel her from the race using raw force, but he was denied by Switzer’s boyfriend. She was able to finish the race and to become an icon for women rights. Her social impact was recognized in 2011, when she was included in National Women’s Hall of Fame.
6. Steve Prefontaine (1951 – 1975) is a well known American runner for several decades and it is a legend in the US running history. He was one of the most prolific runners of his time, setting consecutive records for 7 track runs, the length of the tracks raging for 2.000 meters to 10.000 meters and were all broken during the same event. He is considered to be responsible for the increase in public interest regarding the sport in the 1970’s. He even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine when he was only 19 years of age. Steve Prefontaine, or most commonly known as “Pre”, is now one of the most reputed long runners in recent history.
7. Sebastian Coe (1956 – present day) is a British runner who dominated the Olympic scene for several years in a row from the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. Over the course of four years, between 1980 and 1984 he managed to win 4 Olympic gold medals as well as gaining the reputation of one of the most feared athletes in the field. His entire career accomplishments consist in 3 indoor and 8 outdoor world records. 1979 was probably one of his most prolific years as he succeeded in winning 3 gold medals over the course of 41 competitive days. He set an 800 meters world record that lasted for an amazing 16 years time period, from 1981 to 1997. After he quit his career as a professional athlete he went for a new career as a politician and played a major role in the events that led to London being chosen as a host for the 2012 Olympics.
8. Florence Griffith-Joyner (1959 – 1998) is an American female runner, considered the fastest woman to ever have lived. She was responsible for setting the world record for 100 meters and 200 meters during the 1988 South Korea Olympics, held in Seoul. Her world records still stand and there wasn’t a single athlete even close to beat any of them. Her performances won her two gold medals plus an additional one during a 4 X 100 meter race. Her life was plentiful but, sadly, short as she died at the age of 38 from an epileptic seizure.
9. Linford Christie (1960 – present day) is another British male athlete known as the most successful male runner in British history. By his full name of Linford Cicero Christie, the British won the first ever gold medal a British ever won in the 100 meter race during the Commonwealth Games, in all the major competitions of that time such as: World Championship, the Olympic Games and, last but not least, the European Championship. His entire career can be defined by his 24 won medals, ten of which representing first place results.
10. Carl Lewis (1961 – present day) is an American athlete who won the admiration and the respect of both the public and the sport community after 4 highly successful appearances in 4 Olympics. His all time winnings consist in 9 Olympic first place medals plus an additional 8, won during various World Championships. He won the name of Athlete of the Year from 1982 to 1984, given by Track and Field News. His total world records count adds up to 1 in the 4 X 100 race and 1 in the 4 X 200 race as well as during the 100 meter dash. He was voted the Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.
11. Dean Karnazes (1962 – present day), an American male athlete, widely known as the most powerful ultra marathon runner around the world. He was constantly pushing his limits and set new standards in endurance levels which no other athlete could follow. Dean Karnazes prides himself with some impressive marathon running accomplishments. He managed to run for 80 hours and 44 minutes straight, without any sleep, in 2005, for a total of 350 miles and just a year later he went through a marathon spree, counting 50 marathons held in 50 states over the course of 50 consecutive days. As an addition, he succeeded in running from Southern California to New York in just under 75 days.
12. Michael Johnson (1967 – present day) is known as the American athlete who won the most gold medals in his time. Michael Johnson hold both the Olympic and the world record for the 400 meter race and also recorded the world’s fastest time in the 300 meter sprint. His entire career counts 4 Olympic gold medals and an additional 8 World Championship ones. He was included in the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in the year 2004. His 1996 performance during the 200 meter race is still considered the best track and field performance for the last 25 years or more.
13. Emil Zatopek (1922 – 2000) was a Czech long runner holding several world records and accomplishments throughout his entire career. He dominated the distance running competitions in the 1950’s and he won multiple gold medals during several competitive events such as: gold medal for the 5.000 meter race in the 1948 Olympic games and 3 gold medals for the 5.000 meters, 10.000 meters and the marathon 4 years later in 1952 during the 1952 Olympic Games. His most impressive record was set in a two year sequence, between 1949 to 1951, a period during which he competed in 69 professional races and never lost once.
14. Paula Radclife (1973 – present day) is an English female marathon runner known for winning multiple races across her entire career. By her full name of Paula Jane Radcliffe, the English athlete still holds the world record for a marathon race with 2:15:25, a record still standing to this day. In addition, Paula Radcliffe won three times the New York Marathon, the same number of times the London Marathon and once the Chicago Marathon. She tried to tackle four Olympic Games in a row, but with no success as she won couldn’t win any medal.
15. Scott Jurek (1973 – present day) is an American ultra marathon runner famous for his countless winning streaks and records hold. Scott Jurek succeeded in winning the 100 Mile Endurance Run for an astounding 7 times in a row spree during the Western States Ultra Marathon. As an all career winnings, he counts the Spartathlon, which he won 3 times, the Miwok 100 K Trail Race, won 3 times and Leona Divide 50 Mile Run, won 4 times and these are just few of his accomplishments. He still holds the US 24 hours marathon race with a distance of 165.7 miles. Scott Jurek is also known for winning twice the Badwater marathon, considered to be one of the hardest marathon races in the world.
16. Haile Gebrselassie (1973 – present day) is an Ethiopian male long distance runner, considered to be one of the greatest of all time. He succeeded in winning the Olympic gold medals in both 1996 and 2000’s during the 10.000 meter race. Additionally, he won 4 World Championships during the same event. As an all time accomplishments, Haile Gebrselassie won 4 gold medals in a row in the Berlin Marathon and other consecutive 3 at the Dubai Marathon event. But what makes him one of the greatest long runners in the history is his personal records held. 61 Ethiopian records and 27 world records bear Haile Gebrselaissie’s name.
17. Hicham El Guerrouj (1974 – present day) is a Moroccan male athlete, widely known by the nickname “King of the Mile”. He scores as the greatest middle distance runner to ever have lived and holds several world records in different races. “King of the Mile” holds the world record for the 1.500 meters, for one mile and for the 2.000 meters outdoor races. Plus, in 2004 he participated in the Olympic Games which brought him 2 gold medals for the 1.500 meter race and the 5.000 meter one. He also managed to win 4 successive World Championships for the 1.500 meters race, which was an accomplishment never done before him.
18. Tyson Gay (1982 – present day), an American short distance runner is responsible for setting the world record for the 200 meter race, an accomplishment never broken since. He is the next fastest runner in the world after Usain Bolt. Tyson Gay won 3 gold medals in World Championships events, 2 gold medals in World Cup and another 3 in World Athletics Final. As an addition, he was awarded with the Jesse Owens career Award twice and was named the Athlete of the Year in 2007, a title offered by the International Association of Athletics.
19. Asafa Powell (1982 – present day) is a Jamaican male sprinter known for breaking 88 world records for the 10 second mark during the 100 meters sprint. Asafa Powell is the top record holder for the 100 meter race over a period of 3 years, from 2005 to 2008 and in 2008 he set a new world record in the 4 X 100 meter race with his Jamaican Olympic team. Asafa Powell won 5 gold medals as a result of competing in the World Athletics competition. However, he was tested positive for oxilofrine and he was proposed for disqualification for the 2013 World Athletics Championships event.
20. Mo Farah (1983 – present day) is a British male distance runner known for being the second athlete in history to hold 2 double victories at both the Olympics distance running races and the World Championship event. Furthermore, Mo Farah is one of the seven people to have ever succeeded scoring under 3:30 during the 1.500 meter sprint race and under thirteen minutes for the 5.000 meter print race. He won 2 gold medals in the Olympic 2012 Games, which led to him being recognized as Commander of the Order of the British Empire, honoring his all time contribution to his nation athletic community.
21. Joan Benoit Samuelson (1957 – present day) is an American female marathon runner winning the gold medal in the first competitive Olympic Games held in her native town of Los Angeles. She managed to crush the public misconceptions which were stating that no woman runner is physically capable of such a task. Prior to her Olympic gold medal, she won the infamous Boston Marathon with the time of 2:35:15, crushing the previous women record by a full 8 minutes. She returned to Boston in 1983, four years later, aiming for another great achievement and she succeeded in winning the competition again, with the time of 2:22:43, setting a record which would be untouchable for the next decade to come. Joan Benoit received the James E. Sullivan award as a result of winning the Chicago Marathon back in 1985.
22. Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi (1975 – present day)
After the disastrous events at the Boston Marathon, Keflezighi emerged as the winner of the 2014 edition, a performance widely acclaimed that propelled his fame over night and made him a national hero. He won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics for the 26.2 miles race and he was the first American athlete to do so. Furthermore, he won the New York City Marathon in 2009, being the one to end a 27 year lose streak American athletes were on. Other important career highlights include the 2000 and 2004 10.000 meter Olympic winning, the USA 12.000 cross title for 2001,2002 and 2009, followed by 6 USA titles for the 15.000 meter race and, of course, the 2009 USA marathon event.
23. Allyson Felix (1985 – present day) an American female runner know mostly for her three gold medals won during the 2012 Olympic Games. Allyson Felix is specialized in the 200 meter sprint, the 4 X 400 meter relay and the 4 X 100 meter relay and she has already won all these three major events during the London Olympic Games. Her achievement of winning three gold medals in just one Olympic Game event, held in 1988, spread her fame as the first ever female athlete to have accomplished such a deed. More recently, Allyson Felix won the gold medal for the 4 X 400 meter relay race during her appearance in Beijing competitions held in 2008.
24. Usain Bolt (1986 – present day) is a male Jamaican short distance runner, who basically does not need any presentation. He is currently viewed as the world’s fastest man to have ever lived. Usain Bolt, also known by his nickname “Lightning Bolt” is the first athlete to hold both the 100 and the 200 meter sprints world records. He also had few participations for the 4 X 100 meter relay races. Over the course of 4 years, between 2008 and 2012 he won 3 gold medals in the Olympic events which took place, chronologically, in Beijing and in London and this granted him the title of the first ever male athlete to hold 6 gold medals won in Olympic events. As a crown jewel of his career he was named the Athlete of the Year four times by the International Association of Athletics.
25. Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (1982 – present day) is a Kenyan male athlete currently holding the marathon world record. He participated in the 2013 Berlin Marathon events and scored 2:03:23, overcoming the previously held record by just 15 seconds. Wilson was the first one to break the 2:05 time mark 5 times over the course of his career and he won the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic event. He scored several other winnings including 2010 and 2011 Frankfurt Marathons, the 2013 Berlin Marathon and the 2014 London Marathon race, during which he set the course record for 2:04:29.
26. Deena Michelle Kastor (born as Deena Michelle Drossin; 1973 – present day), a well appreciated American marathon athlete, won the sympathy of her fellow Americans after she succeeded in winning the bronze medal during the 2004 Olympic Games and she is the first American woman to add a medal on her sport panel, won in an Olympic Marathon event since Joan Benoit – Samuelson in 1984. She still lead the women’s marathon world record with the time of 2:19:36. In the American’s eyes she is the favorite female athlete up to 2004 Olympics. She won 4 times the national titles, 4 times the 15.000 meter race and 6 USA 8.000 Cross Championships.
27. Geoffrey Kiprono Mutai (1981 – present day) is another Kenyan long distance runner commonly known as the history’s fastest marathon runner back in 2011, accomplishing a time of 2:03:02 at a rate of 4:42 minutes per mile. Despite the fact that his time is not a world record breaking accomplishment, Mutai still managed to take his place among the greatest results in the marathon’s history. During the same year, the Kenyan set another course record in the New York Marathon, with 2:05:06, doing it again 2 years later in 2013. Mutai also holds a personal record of 58:58 for the 13 mile distance, an achievement placing him in the top 100 athletes that succeeded such a deed.
28. Alberto Salazar (1958 – present day) is an American former long distance runner, which was formed under the guidance of Bill Bowerman in the University of Oregon. Salazar’s domination was swift during his early years and no one virtually saw him coming. He won the NCAA cross championships back in 1978 and crushed a previous indoor record in 5.000 meters by a full 20 seconds difference. Three years later he went through a winning spree, counting three consecutive wins of New York Marathon in the period 1980-1982. His personal mark was a record breaking result, scoring 2:09:41. In addition, he won the following 1982 Boston Marathon.
29. Catherine Nyambura Ndereba (1972 – present day) is a Kenyan female marathon runner holding both marathon and half marathon records and she is known for winning the Boston Marathon 4 times and 2 times the Chicago Marathon event. During the World Championship Marathon she scored 2 first places and won another silver medal for distance running in both 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics races. She is considered to be the most accomplished female runners in the history, Catherine also scored high results in several other distance races. Back in 1999 she won the world title for 5.000 meters, 12.000 meters, 15.000 meters and the 10 miles race. She announced publicly her retirement in 2014, at the age of 41.
30. Kenenisa Bekele (1982 – present day) is a long distance record holder Ethiopian runner, currently holding the record for 5.000 meter and 10.000 meter races and he also won the 2008 Summer Olympics, which brought him worldwide recognition. Kenenisa Bekele is probably one of the most decorated cross-country runner in the sport’s history and he scored 6 wins for the 12.000 distance races and 5 wins for the 4.000 meter race at the IAAF World Cross Championship. However, he recently made a debut in marathon running and participated at the 2014 Paris Marathon where he score a time of 2:05:04, breaking the course record and making a name for himself in the history of the sport.