AW readers consider the sprint star and the distance running ace to be the best of the best

How do you define ‘The Greatest’? The most gold medals, world records and memorable moments?

When it comes to the best in athletics from the past 75 years, AW readers define ‘The Greatest’ as being a certain Usain Bolt and Tirunesh Dibaba.

Our December magazine marks the publication’s diamond anniversary and to help us commemorate the occasion we asked our readers to vote for the top male and female athletes to have graced the sport since 1945.

There was little doubt over the identity of the winners, with Jamaica’s sprint star Bolt and Ethiopia’s distance running great Dibaba claiming clear victories.

There is perhaps little surprise in that Bolt is a winner yet again.

“I don’t think any athlete, any sportsman or woman since Muhammad Ali has captured the public imagination and propelled their sport as quickly and as far as Usain Bolt has,” World Athletics president Seb Coe once said of the sprinting superstar.

For the women, Dibaba has also enjoyed a number of highlights during what has been a distinguished distance running career.

AW Awards results

The Greatest Male Athlete

1 Usain Bolt – 55.3%
2 Haile Gebrselassie – 17.1%
3 Emil Zatopek – 14.5%

The Greatest Female Athlete

1 Tirunesh Dibaba – 31.1%
2 Fanny Blankers-Koen – 25.7%
3 Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – 18.9%

Full features on both winners can be found in the December issue of AW magazine, which is available to order in print here or buy digitally here.

Read on for some facts and stats to whet your appetite.


Usain Bolt finished top of the podium again when it came to our readers’ choice for the greatest male athlete of the past 75 years. His most notable performances didn’t always come at global meetings, however, and in the December issue of AW, Steve Smythe highlights some of his significant results outside of his senior global successes.

It was over the distance of 400m in Bridgetown when Bolt first came to the attention of statisticians, when he ran a 48.28 in finishing second in the CARIFTA Games in 2001 as a 14-year-old. Who could have predicted then that he would go on to become the fastest and greatest 100m runner in history?

Over the next 16 years, he would evolve into the world’s greatest and most famous athlete, with a number of stunning world records, six individual Olympic and seven world sprint titles and also six global relay titles to his name. He ran in a remarkable 44 world championship races and is an icon of the sport.

Click here to read more on his life in athletics after retirement.


For those who remember her as a baby-faced assassin, it’s hard to fathom that Tirunesh Dibaba has now reached veteran status at the age of 35.

The Ethiopian, who possesses one of the silkiest running styles and deadliest kicks in history (and subsequent biggest smiles), won three Olympic golds and nine world titles.

In terms of track world titles, Dibaba won the 5000m and 10,000m double in 2007 with respective last laps of 58.2 and 58.4, as well as winning the 10,000m title in both 2007 and 2013 and the 2017 10,000m silver.

Between 2005 and 2012, she won 12 successive races over 25 laps.

In the December issue of AW, Smythe looks back at five of her most memorable races, including her world 5000m record at the Bislett Games in 2008 and her London 2012 Olympic 10,000m win.

Voting for ‘The Greatest’ formed part of the 2020 AW Awards, with readers also asked to vote for their standout athletes from the past 12 months.

Click here for the results and see the December issue of AW for more. The magazine is available to order in print here or buy digitally here.

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