33. Bo Jackson
Before a hip injury ended his football career and nearly derailed his baseball career, Jackson was the biggest two-sport star America had seen since Jim Thorpe.
After passing up an offer to play for the New York Yankees right out of high school, Jackson attended Auburn University on a football scholarship. In 1985, he won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player and hit .401 with 17 home runs for the baseball team.
During his career, Jackson rarely lifted weights, instead focusing on a regimen of calisthenics and water aerobics.
32. Willie Mays
It wasn’t just Mays’ grace and athleticism patrolling center field for the New York Giants that made him a hero to an entire generation of kids; it was that he brought it directly to them. Every morning during the baseball season, Mays played stickball on the street with groups of children in his Harlem neighborhood.
After his morning game, Mays would cross 155th Street and go down a massive flight of stairs to the Polo Grounds. “If you look at how steep these steps are, you can see why Willie Mays was in such great shape,” said New York Times columnist William Rhoden in a short film about Mays’ Harlem. “Trust me, this was a workout.”
31. Carl Lewis
Between 1983 and 1996, Carl Lewis was the unrivaled star of international track and field, and America’s most visible and popular Olympic athlete. He won gold nine times in four different Olympic events and eight times in World Championship competition.
But he left his most lasting impression in the long jump, where he amassed 65 consecutive victories. One of his world records still remains. That’s part of the reason why the International Olympic Committee once named Lewis “Sportsman of the Century.”
29. Jesse Owens
Is it possible for someone who moves so fast and fluidly to be defined by a still image? Take, for example, the famous photograph of Olympian Jesse Owens, standing proudly at the podium after winning the long jump gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, his hand raised to his brow in a deferential salute as an entire stadium of Germans extend their arms.
For many, this was the picture of American defiance in the face of hate and fascism, displayed by a track star whose feats eviscerated Nazi propaganda about Aryan superiority.
Indeed, Owens—who matched the 100-meter sprint world record while in high school—won four golds in all during those controversial Games and raised the profile of African-American athletes everywhere in an era of segregation. This made him an icon. So it may be easy to forget that the man was damn quick, even by current Usain Bolt standards.
After all, the Ohio State legend set three world records and tied another in less than an hour at the Big Ten Track & Field Championships a year before his Olympic triumphs. As Owens once put it, “I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up.”