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The Most Famous

ATHLETES from Belgium

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This page contains a list of the greatest Belgian Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,059 Athletes, 38 of which were born in Belgium. This makes Belgium the birth place of the 29th most number of Athletes behind South Korea and Austria.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Belgian Athletes of all time. This list of famous Belgian Athletes is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Belgian Athletes.

Photo of Gaston Reiff

1. Gaston Reiff (1921 - 1992)

With an HPI of 53.40, Gaston Reiff is the most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages on wikipedia.

Gaston Étienne Ghislaine Reiff (24 February 1921 – 6 May 1992) was a Belgian runner. He competed at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics in the 5000 m event and won it in 1948, defeating Emil Zátopek in the final and becoming the first Belgian track and field athlete to win an Olympic title. He lost to Zátopek at the 1950 European Championships, placing third.Reiff competed in boxing and football before changing to athletics. Besides his Olympic gold medal he set world records in the 2000 m, 3000 m and 2 miles and won 24 national titles; in 1951 he held Belgian records on distances ranging from 1000 m to 10000 m. A street in Braine-l'Alleud and the town's stadium are named after Reiff in his home town of Braine-l'Alleud.

Photo of Hubert Van Innis

2. Hubert Van Innis (1866 - 1961)

With an HPI of 52.72, Hubert Van Innis is the 2nd most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Gerard Theodor Hubert Van Innis (24 February 1866 – 25 November 1961) was a Belgian competitor in the sport of archery, he competed in two Summer Olympics 20 years apart and came away with six gold medals and three silver medals.As a young boy the story goes he was forced to work as a milk delivery boy in the villages around Brussels, and at the end of his deliveries he would send his dog and cart home while he went off to practice his archery skills.When he was 13 years old he won the first prize in a main competition Antwerp. He also won the prize in 1893, 1894, 1895 and 1896. In 1881 he won the royan prize of Roozendaal.Van Innis was 34 years old when he competed at the 1900 Summer Olympics held in Paris, France, he entered four events, he won gold medals in the Au Cordon Doré 33 metres and the Au Chapelet 33 metres events, he also came second behind Frenchman Henri Hérouin in the Au Cordon Doré 50 metres, his worst result of the Games was a fourth place in the Au Chapelet 50 metres.Van Innis had to wait another twenty years before competing on the Olympic stage, he then entered the 1920 Summer Olympics held on his home soil in Antwerp, Belgium, where he added to his medal tally with two more individual gold medals in the Individual moving bird, 28 metres beating Frenchman Léonce Quentin as only two people competed and the Individual moving bird, 33 metres, he then lost to Frenchman Julien Brulé in the Individual moving bird, 50 metres to win a silver medal, he also added three team medals with two more golds in the Team moving bird, 50 metres, Team moving bird, 33 metres and a silver medal in the Team moving bird, 28 metres, his final Olympic medal tally was six gold medals and three silver medals.Unbelievably when aged 67 years old and 13 years after his Olympic victories he went on to win in the 1933 World Championships.His legacy has continued through his family, his great-grandson Philippe Prieels has competed in the World Archery Championships and his great great granddaughter Sarah Prieels has also competed in the World Archery Championships.

Photo of Gaston Roelants

3. Gaston Roelants (1937 - )

With an HPI of 51.56, Gaston Roelants is the 3rd most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Gaston, Baron Roelants (born 5 February 1937), is a Belgian former elite steeplechaser and cross country runner. He won the 1962 European and 1964 Olympic titles in the 3000 m steeplechase and twice broke the world record.

Photo of Joël Robert

4. Joël Robert (1943 - 2021)

With an HPI of 48.84, Joël Robert is the 4th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Joël Robert (26 November 1943 – 13 January 2021) was a Belgian professional motocross racer. He competed in the Motocross World Championships from 1962 to 1976 when the sport experienced a surge in popularity worldwide. A six-time world champion, Robert dominated the 250cc class for almost a decade when, he placed either first or second every year between 1964 and 1972 including, five consecutive world championships. In 1964, he was named the recipient of the Belgian National Sports Merit Award. He won a total of 50 Grand Prix races over his career, a record which stood for nearly 30 years.Robert's success on the race track along with his impish personality made him one of the most publicized and popular motocross racers of the early 1970s. He was known as one of the most naturally talented motocross riders of his era however, he was also notorious for his cigarette smoking and lack of physical training despite his portly physique. His rivalry with Torsten Hallman produced some of the best races in the history of the championships.Robert played an integral role in the introduction of the sport of motocross in the United States and, served as inspiration to early American motocross racers. He was recognized for his contribution to the development of American motocross in 2000 when, he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. In 2020, Robert was named an FIM Motocross Legend.

Photo of Ivo Van Damme

5. Ivo Van Damme (1954 - 1976)

With an HPI of 48.58, Ivo Van Damme is the 5th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Ivo Van Damme (21 February 1954 – 29 December 1976) was a Belgian middle-distance runner. Van Damme played football until he was 16, but then switched to athletics. His breakthrough came in 1973, when he placed fourth in the 800 m at the European Junior Championships.He suffered from mononucleosis the following season, but returned strong beating Roger Moens's 1955 national 800 m record. In 1976, he won the European indoor title over this distance, and was one of the favourites for a medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He eventually ended up second in both the 800 and 1500 m, finishing behind Alberto Juantorena and John Walker, respectively.These were his last successes, as Van Damme was killed in a car accident later that year while travelling home from Marseille in southern France. He was to marry Rita Thijs in 1977. Since 1977, a memorial competition has been held in Brussels to remember him, the Memorial Van Damme, which is now the championship final for selected disciplines of the Diamond League athletics tour.

Photo of Étienne Gailly

6. Étienne Gailly (1922 - 1971)

With an HPI of 47.98, Étienne Gailly is the 6th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Étienne Gailly (French pronunciation: [etjɛn ɡaji]; 26 November 1922, Beringen – 3 November 1971, Genval) was a Belgian soldier and Olympic athlete who competed mainly in the Marathon.

Photo of Emiel Puttemans

7. Emiel Puttemans (1947 - )

With an HPI of 47.07, Emiel Puttemans is the 7th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Emiel Adrien "Miel" Puttemans (born 8 October 1947) is a Belgian former middle- and long-distance runner who set world records for 3000 metres (7 minutes 37.6 seconds) in 1972, for 2 miles (8 minutes 17.8 seconds) in 1971, and for 5000 metres (13 minutes 13 seconds) in 1972, and 3 miles in 1972 (12:47.8). He won two European Indoor Championships titles in the 3000 m, in 1973 and 1974, and finished second in 1978.At the 1972 Summer Olympics, Puttemans won a silver medal in the 10,000 metres and finished in fifth place in the 5000 metres. He then set a world record in the 5000 metres six days after the 1972 games. He also competed in these events at the 1968, 1976 and 1980 Games, but with less success.In 1982, Puttemans won the first edition of the Rome Marathon.

Photo of Aimé Haegeman

8. Aimé Haegeman (1861 - 1935)

With an HPI of 45.90, Aimé Haegeman is the 8th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Aimé Joseph Haegeman (19 October 1861 – 19 September 1935) was a Belgian military officer and horse rider. Haegeman was an officer in the Lancers Regiment and an instructor at the École de cavalerie d'Ypres.In May 1900, he competed in the equestrian events during the International Horse Show in Paris. The show was part of the Exposition Universelle, and the equestrian events were later classified as part of the 1900 Summer Olympics. With his horse, Benton II, he won the jumping event.

Photo of Paul Van Asbroeck

9. Paul Van Asbroeck (1874 - 1959)

With an HPI of 45.78, Paul Van Asbroeck is the 9th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Paul Van Asbroeck (1 May 1874 – 1959) was a Belgian sport shooter who competed in the early 20th century in rifle and pistol shooting. He competed at the 1900 Olympics in Paris and won a bronze medal in the military rifle 3 positions category. However the medal was tied with Norwegian Ole Ostmo.In the 1908 Olympics in London he won the Free pistol event and took silver in the team event. He also won the individual World Championships in that event in 1904, 1907, 1909, 1910, 1912, and 1914. He also competed in the 1920, 1924, and 1936 Olympic Games, for a total of five Olympic appearances. The document 'Five Or More Appearances in the Olympics, 1992 Revision' by the Olympic historians Lennart Dahllöf, Wolf Lyberg, and Dr Bill Mallon claims that Van Asbroeck appeared in six Olympic Games, citing '1906-08, 20-28, 36', but this appears to be in error. Presumably the 1906 is a typo for 1900, since he did compete in 1906. The 1906 Intercalated Games do not count as 'official' Olympics, while shooting was not part of the Olympic programme in 1904 or 1928.

Photo of Désiré Beaurain

10. Désiré Beaurain (1881 - 1963)

With an HPI of 44.84, Désiré Beaurain is the 10th most famous Belgian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Désiré Beaurain (2 September 1881 – 24 October 1963) was a Belgian fencer. He won a bronze medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics and a silver medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Pantheon has 38 people classified as athletes born between 1861 and 1994. Of these 38, 16 (42.11%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include Gaston Roelants, Emiel Puttemans, and Karel Lismont. The most famous deceased athletes include Gaston Reiff, Hubert Van Innis, and Joël Robert. As of April 2022, 16 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Joël Robert, Emiel Puttemans, and Paul Van Asbroeck.

Living Athletes

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Deceased Athletes

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Newly Added Athletes (2022)

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Which Athletes were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 14 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.