The 21 best multi-sport athletes of the 21st century (yes, there are that many!)

The 21 best multi-sport athletes of the 21st century (yes, there are that many!)

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Blame this guy.
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Tim Tebow is attempting a return to football, attending minicamp with the Jacksonville Jaguars, this time as a tight end after he ran out of chances as a quarterback in 2015 when the Philadelphia Eagles cut him. In the interim, Tebow pursued a baseball career, making it as far as Triple-A in the Mets system.

We haven’t had a ton of big-time multi-sport athletes since the days of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, but there are more than you think. These are the 21 best multi-sport athletes of the 21st century.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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21. Jimmy Graham

21. Jimmy Graham

Yes, that’s Jimmy Graham at Miami (r.)
Yes, that’s Jimmy Graham at Miami (r.)
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A five-time Pro Bowl tight end who led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2013, Graham starred with the Packers but now plays for the rival Bears. He not only played college football at Miami, but basketball, too, starting one-third of the 120 games he played for the Hurricanes and averaging 4.2 rebounds per game.

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20. Katie Taylor

20. Katie Taylor

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The Bray Bomber won Olympic gold in lightweight boxing in 2012, part of an amateur ring resume that includes five world championships and six European championships. Taylor is 18-0 as a professional boxer, having most recently retained the undisputed lightweight title with a 10-round unanimous decision over Natasha Jonas on May 1. Prior to working with her hands, Taylor was a wizard with her feet, scoring two goals in 11 matches for the Republic of Ireland national team.

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19. Clara Hughes

19. Clara Hughes

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The only Canadian athlete to medal at both Summer (two bronzes in road cycling in 1996) and Winter (gold and silver in speed skating in 2006, bronze in 2002 and 2010) Olympics, Hughes also was an accomplished track cyclist, winning silver at the 1991 Pan American games and gold at the event in 2003. She is the only athlete ever to win multiple medals at both seasons’ Olympics.

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18. Stephen Neal

18. Stephen Neal

Illustration for article titled The 21 best multi-sport athletes of the 21st century (yes, there are that many!)
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Neal almost doesn’t qualify here because his greatest wrestling triumph was an NCAA title in 1999, defeating Brock Lesnar for the crown. But Neal did grapple into 2000, when he made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic trials. Leaving wrestling behind, Neal went on to win three Super Bowl rings as a guard for the Patriots.

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17. Rebecca Romero

17. Rebecca Romero

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After winning Olympic silver in quadruple sculls in 2004, and a world championship in 2005, Romero did not intend to become a multi-sport athlete, but a back injury ended her rowing career. She took up cycling, and turned out to be even better at that, winning gold for individual pursuit at the 2008 Games and world championships in individual and team pursuit the same year.

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16. Kyler Murray

16. Kyler Murray

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There’s definitely time for Murray to move up this list, but so far he’s only had a few seasons as the Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback, after starring on both the gridiron and the diamond at Oklahoma. The first player to be drafted in the first round of the NFL and MLB drafts, Murray chose to focus solely on football, where he was the No. 1 pick and became the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, rather than baseball, where the Oakland A’s selected him ninth overall in 2018.

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15. Ashleigh Barty

15. Ashleigh Barty

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In 2014, the Australian tennis star announced that she was taking time off from the sport, returned home, and started playing cricket for the first time since she was a kid. Barty took to the team dynamic of the game, and played for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, as well as with a local squad, the Queensland Fire. Barty returned to tennis in 2016, won the French Open in 2019, and rose to No. 1 in the world.

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14. Ester Ledecká

14. Ester Ledecká

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The only person this century to win gold medals in two different sports at the same Olympics, Ledecká was a known quantity in snowboarding, having finished seventh in parallel giant slalom in 2014 before capturing the top prize in 2018. Her gold in alpine skiing’s Super-G, however, was a total shock. Ranked 49th in the world at the time, Ledecká had never medaled at any World Cup event. The Czech star now has totaled four parallel overall World Cup season snowboarding titles, three in parallel giant slalom, and in skiing a second-place finish in the 2020 World Cup downhill standings, with victories on the circuit in downhill and Super-G.

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13. Erin Phillips

13. Erin Phillips

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A nine-year veteran of the WNBA, winning titles with the Indiana Fever in 2012 and Phoenix Mercury in 2014, Phillips also helped Australia to the FIBA world championship in 2006 and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. After wrapping up her career with the Dallas Wings, Phillips became an assistant coach there, but also remained an athlete, becoming a star in Australian rules football. Phillips has two premierships — basically finals MVP — for the Adelaide Crows, as well as two Best and Fairest awards.

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12. Russell Wilson

12. Russell Wilson

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A light-hitting but speedy second baseman who stole 15 bases for the Asheville Tourists in 2011, Wilson gave up the game after two professional seasons to focus on football. That quickly became evident to be the right choice as Wilson, a third-round NFL draft pick and fourth-round MLB draft pick, became a Pro Bowl quarterback in just his second year in the league — the first of eight such honors to date. A Super Bowl champion and the league leader in touchdown tosses in 2017, Wilson still has been known to pop up at the occasional spring training to talk about leadership and get some cuts in.

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11. Sav Rocca

11. Sav Rocca

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If you watched games in the NFC East from 2007-13, you’d surely hear about how Rocca, who punted for Philadelphia for four seasons and Washington for three, formerly played Australian rules football. What announcers wouldn’t tell you about the man who became the oldest rookie in NFL history is just how good Rocca was in the AFL — 14th in goals kicked in league history, in a league with more than a century of it. Rocca’s average of 42.9 yard per punt in his career ranks 62nd in NFL history, another league with more than a century behind it.

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10. Julius Peppers

10. Julius Peppers

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Part of two NFL all-decade teams and the league record holder for most forced fumbles, Peppers had six points and eight rebounds off the bench in the 2000 Elite Eight, helping lift North Carolina over Tulsa for a berth in the Final Four. While Peppers continued to progress in basketball as a sophomore, he gave up the sport after that, focusing on football where he became the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft, was a nine-time Pro Bowl defensive end, and assuredly will wind up in the Hall of Fame.

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9. Lauryn Williams

9. Lauryn Williams

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Turning to bobsled at the end of a track career is pretty common. Becoming a multi-sport Olympic medalist, not so much. Williams won silver in the 100 meters at the 2004 Games and gold in the 4x100 relay in 2012, to go with three World Championship golds in her career, then started running on ice. In 2014, Williams and pilot Elana Meyers took silver in the two-woman bobsled, finishing only a tenth of a second behind Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse. Meyers and Williams had the fastest run of the meet, coming oh-so-close to Williams being a double gold Olympic athlete.

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8. Madison Bumgarner

8. Madison Bumgarner

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The author of perhaps the greatest relief appearance in World Series history, as he locked down Game 7 for the 2014 Giants, Bumgarner is well deserving of his reputation as a money pitcher. He’s also money as a cattle roper, winning $26,560 at a 2019 event in Arizona, where he competed under the alias Mason Saunders. With the secret out, Bumgarner may try roping full time once he’s done with baseball, but having pitched a no-hitter this year that didn’t officially count because it was only seven innings, it seems that might still be a ways off.

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7. Antonio Gates

7. Antonio Gates

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Seventh in career touchdown receptions in the NFL, an eight-time Pro Bowler and part of the all-2000s team in the league, Gates wasn’t even drafted out of college. In fact, he was more prominent in basketball, as his college journey took him from Michigan State (where Nick Saban wanted him to play only football) to Eastern Michigan, then to College of the Sequoias, and finally Kent State. With the Golden Flashes, Gates was an honorable mention All-American power forward with a 20.6-point average, and led the way to the 2002 Elite Eight, upsetting Oklahoma State, Alabama, and Pittsburgh before finally falling to Indiana.

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6. Petr Čech

6. Petr Čech

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A Champions League-winning goalie for Chelsea — as well as a four-time Premier League champion and four-time FA Cup winner — as well as an FA Cup winner also at Arsenal, Čech was named the top goalkeeper in England four times in his career, the best goalie in the world in 2005, and nine times was named Czech Footballer of the Year. Turns out he can block a much smaller, net, too. In January 2020, Čech was named the NIHL 2 South player of the month for his work with the Guildford Phoenix. Čech only played six hockey games, but he recorded two shutouts and posted a .934 save percentage.

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5. Elena Delle Donne

5. Elena Delle Donne

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After deciding not to go to Connecticut, instead staying close to her family — particularly her her sister Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy — at the University of Delaware, Delle Donne walked onto the volleyball team. She only played one season of volleyball, but made an impact for the Blue Hens, tallying 15 kills in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game against Northeastern to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. In basketball, Delle Donne is a two-time WNBA MVP, six-time All-Star, and Olympic gold medalist.

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4. Terrell Owens

4. Terrell Owens

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During the 2002 offseason, one of the best wide receivers in NFL history found an interesting way to stay in shape, playing professional basketball with the Adirondack Wildcats of the USBL. Owens, who played for Tennessee-Chattanooga in college in the ‘90s, even making an NCAA Tournament cameo, donated his basketball salary to charities in the Glens Falls, N.Y., area, and after a few games headed back to football and training camp with the 49ers, on his way to the Hall of Fame.

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3. Ed Reed

3. Ed Reed

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Arguably the best free safety in NFL history, and the all-time leader in interception return yards, Reed is a Hall of Famer, nine-time Pro Bowler, five-time first team All-Pro, and still has the league record for the most multi-interception games in a career, with 12. As much as Reed thrived on catching as a professional, he did his share of throwing in college, placing third at the 2000 Big East championship in the javelin. Competing for Miami, Reed also starred in the triple jump.

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2. Brock Lesnar

2. Brock Lesnar

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One of the top college wrestlers ever to step on a mat, Lesnar won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight title for Minnesota to close his college career with a 106-5 record. In WWE, he’s known as the man who ended the Undertaker’s perfect streak at WrestleMainia, the mayor of Suplex City, and one of the most imposing characters in the game. In real fights, Lesnar won the UFC heavyweight title by beating Randy Couture, and successfully defended the belt twice. In 2004, Lesnar played defensive tackle in the 2004 preseason for the Vikings, and was offered a spot in NFL Europa after he was cut, but decided against it, returning to his path to legend status in combat sports.

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1. Hayley Wickenheiser

1. Hayley Wickenheiser

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The GOAT of women’s hockey with four Olympic gold medals and a silver for Canada, Wickenheiser’s career was simply too early to get the opportunities she deserved to play professionally in North America. She wound up playing for men’s teams in Sweden and Finland, scoring two goals in 43 games over parts of three seasons from 2002-09. That hardly meant she went unrecognized, though, as Wickenheiser was a first-ballot inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame. But Wickenheiser, now a doctor, wasn’t just a staple of the Winter Olympics in the first part of this century, she played softball at the 2000 Games in Sydney and was Team Canada’s best hitter.

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Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.