The Greatest Athletes Of The 1970s

Athletes | 6/10/22

From basketball legends and swimmers to boxing icons and gymnasts, the 1970s was full of world-class athletes.

Breaking records, winning medals, and making names for themselves, athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Olga Korbut, and Mark Spitz ruled the world of sports, becoming some of the best to grace their respective stages.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

During his 20 years playing in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke numerous records, including becoming a six-time MVP for the league, a 15-time All-NBA Team member, a 19-time NBA All-Star, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member.

Los Angeles Lakers v Buffalo Braves
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

As a player, Abdul-Jabbar was part of six championship teams, and, in 2016, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz ruled the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. There, the swimmer took home a whopping seven gold medals, all within world record time.

Mark Spitz à Paris en 1973
Michel ARTAULT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Michel ARTAULT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The seven were added on to the two gold medals he’d already won during the 1968 Summer Olympics, bringing Spitz’s total to nine. During the 1970s, he was named World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine twice.

Roger Staubach

Roger Staubach, aka “Captain America,” was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for 11 seasons, helping bring the team five championship games, ultimately winning two Super Bowl rings.

Denver Post Archives
Denver Post via Getty Images
Denver Post via Getty Images

For Super Bowl VI, Staubach was named the MVP, becoming one of four athletes to earn an MVP title in a Super Bowl as well as a Heisman Trophy while still in college.

Nadia Comaneci

At the age of 14, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci became the first in the sport to receive a perfect score of 10.0 at the Olympic Games. It was 1976.

Nadia Comaneci
Allsport /ALLSPORT
Allsport /ALLSPORT

During the same summer games, the young gymnast went on to score six more perfect 10s, all while going on to win three gold medals. In total, Comaneci won five Olympic Gold medals, all in individual events.

Muhammad Ali

There is a reason Muhammad Ali’s nickname was “The Greatest.” A professional boxer, Ali is often thought to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, winning 56 out of 61 fights in his career. Thirty-seven of those wins from KO knock-outs.

Muhammad Ali...
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Ali began training at the age of 12 and soon found himself winning gold medals and becoming one of the most recognizable athletes of the 20th century.

Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda ruled the Formula One circuit during the 1970s, winning F1 World Drivers’ Championship in both 1977 and 1977 (and again in 1984).

Anwar Hussein Archive
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

During his career, Lauda became the only F1 driver in history to have championship wins under McLaren and Ferrari, two of the most successful cars in the sport.

Olga Korbut

Russian gymnast Olga Korbut is widely considered the leading athlete that changed the sport from a glorified ballet routine to something much more technical. She won a combined four gold medals and two silver medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympic Games.

OLY-1972-GYMNASTICS
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

Retiring from the sport in 1977, Korburt was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1988.

Renate Stecher

German sprinter Renate Stecher was winning medals left and right all throughout the 1970s.

Athletics
S&G/PA Images via Getty Images
S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Her legacy was set in stone when she became the first female to run the 100-meter dash within 11 seconds, earning her a gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in her home country of Munich, Germany.

Rod Carew

Rod Carew was a first and second baseman in the MLB from 1967 until 1985, playing for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. During his time with the Twins, Carew became the best contact hitter in the team’s history with a .388 batting average.

Minnesota Twins
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

During his career, Carew won seven AL batting titles, leading the league to change the title’s name in 2016 to the Rod Carew American League batting title.

Joe Frazier

Smokin’ Joe, Joe Frazier was the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion from 1970 until 1973. Known for his pressure fighting style, Frazier was the first boxer able to defeat the legendary Muhammad Ali. The 1971 match was called the “Fight of the Century.”

Joe Frazier trains
The Ring Magazine via Getty Images
The Ring Magazine via Getty Images

After retirement, Frazier was inducted into both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Carlos Monzon

For seven years, Carlos Monzon held the title of the undisputed world middleweight champion. The boxer went into the ring 100 times during his career, coming out victorious 87 and beating his opponent with a KO knockout 59 times.

Boxing - Carlos Monzon
Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

In 1990, Monzon was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Johan Cruyff

In the 1970s, Dutch professional soccer player Johan Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or three times, an award presented by French magazine France Football and widely known as the European Footballer of the Year award.

Photo Shoot - Johan Cruijff
VI Images via Getty Images
VI Images via Getty Images

On top of being considered one of the greatest players ever to grace the field, Cruyff is also known as one of the sport’s greatest managers, a role he took up after retiring.

Bjorn Borg

A Swedish tennis player, Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam singles titles between 1974 and 1981, during a time known as the Open Era. While he never managed to snag a win at the US Open, it didn’t stop Borg from making four appearances at the finals.

BORG SWEDEN WIMBLEDON SERVE
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1977, Borg held the number one ranking in the world of tennis.

Teófilo Stevenson

An amateur boxer, Teófilo Stevenson won three straight heavyweight boxing titles at the Summer Olympics in 1972, again in 1976, and lastly in 1980.

The Cuban Boxer Teofilo Stevenson In 1970
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

He is one of three boxers to hold three Olympic gold medals. Due to this amazing feat, he was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for the most outstanding boxer at the Olympic Games as well as the Olympic Order, the games’ highest award.

Chris Evert

A seven-time world No. 1 tennis player, Chris Evert won three doubles titles and 18 Grand Slam singles championships. At the end of her iconic career, Evert held 32 doubles titles and 157 singles titles.

Chris Evert
Ben Martin/Getty Images
Ben Martin/Getty Images

During her career, Evert has the amazing record of never losing the first or second round of a Grand Slam singles tournament.

Franz Beckenbauer

Known for his elegant style and leadership on the field, Franz Beckenbauer is widely considered one of the greatest soccer players of the 20th century.

- Bayern Munich
VI Images via Getty Images
VI Images via Getty Images

Thought to be the creator of the modern-day sweeper position, Beckenbauer helped bring his team to victory numerous times, winning the European Cup three times and the FIFA World Cup once.

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, winning ten major mixed doubles titles, 18 Grand Slam singles titles, and 31 major women’s doubles titles.

Navratilova Showing a Sign of Peace
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In total, she has 177 career titles, an Open Era record. Navratilova won her last major title in 2006 before retiring to teach tennis.

Bob McAdoo

For 14 seasons, Bob McAdoo was one of the star athletes in the NBA. While he played on seven NBA teams during his career, a majority of that time was spent with the Los Angeles Lakers, helping bring the team two NBA Championship victories.

New York Knicks v Washington Bullets
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After his time in the NBA, McAdoo went to play in Europe, where he became one of the few players to hold an NBA Championship title and a FIBA European Champions Cup.

Jackie Stewart

Jackie “flying Scott” Stewart was a Formula One driver who won three World Drivers’ Championships. In 1973, he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, the first driver to receive the honor.

Jackie Stewart At Grand Prix Of Spain
Bernard Cahier/Getty Images
Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

That same year, Stewart was recognized as the ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year.

Lasse Virén

A long-distance runner, Lasse Virén, is one of the “Flying Finns,” a group of Finnish runners who are recognized for their incredible speed.

Lasse Viren, Zurich 1972
Blick Sport/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Blick Sport/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

During his iconic career, Virén wound up winning four Olympic gold medals: two during the 1972 games in Munich, Germany, and another two during the 1976 games in Montreal, Canada.