An athlete (also sportsman or sportswoman) is a person who competes in one or more sports that involve physical strength, speed or endurance. The application of the term to those who participate in other activities, such as horse riding or driving, is somewhat controversial.
Athletes may be professionals or amateurs. Most professional athletes have particularly well-developed physiques obtained by extensive physical training and strict exercise accompanied by a strict dietary regimen.
The title of "World's Greatest Athlete" traditionally belongs to the world's top competitor in the decathlon (males) and heptathlon (females) in track and field. The decathlon consists of 10 events: 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110 m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500 m. The heptathlon consists of seven events: the 100 m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin, and 800 meters. These competitions require an athlete to possess the whole spectrum of athletic ability in order to be successful including speed, strength, coordination, jumping ability, and endurance.
Although the title "World's Greatest Athlete" seems a natural fit for these two events, its traditional association with the decathlon/heptathlon officially began with Jim Thorpe. During the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe won the gold medal in the Decathlon (among others). Thorpe notably also competed professionally in soccer, baseball, American Football, and basketball; and competed collegiately in track and field, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and did ballroom dancing. King Gustav V of Sweden, while awarding Thorpe the decathlon gold said: "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." That title has become associated with the decathlon event ever since.