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The Most Famous

ATHLETES from Bulgaria

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This page contains a list of the greatest Bulgarian Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,059 Athletes, 33 of which were born in Bulgaria. This makes Bulgaria the birth place of the 31st most number of Athletes behind Belgium and Switzerland.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Bulgarian Athletes of all time. This list of famous Bulgarian 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 Bulgarian Athletes.

Photo of Naim Süleymanoğlu

1. Naim Süleymanoğlu (1967 - 2017)

With an HPI of 54.91, Naim Süleymanoğlu is the most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 36 different languages on wikipedia.

Naim Süleymanoğlu (Bulgarian: Наим Сюлейманоглу; 23 January 1967 – 18 November 2017) was a Turkish Olympic weightlifter. He was a seven-time World Weightlifting champion and a three-time Olympic gold medalist who set 46 world records. At 147 cm in height, Süleymanoğlu's short stature and great strength led to him being nicknamed "Pocket Hercules". He is widely considered as one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. He is the best pound-for-pound weightlifter in the history of weightlifting. At the 1988 Summer Olympics, Süleymanoğlu set multiple world records in the featherweight division in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total. Following the 1988 Summer Olympics, he made the cover of Time magazine. Süleymanoğlu went on to win Olympic gold in 1992 and 1996. He was awarded the Olympic Order in 2001. In 2000 and 2004, he was elected as a member of the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame.

Photo of Stefka Kostadinova

2. Stefka Kostadinova (1965 - )

With an HPI of 53.41, Stefka Kostadinova is the 2nd most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 45 different languages.

Stefka Georgieva Kostadinova (Bulgarian: Стефка Георгиева Костадинова; born 25 March 1965) is a Bulgarian former athlete who competed in the high jump. Her world record of 2.09 metres has stood since 1987. She is the 1996 Olympic champion, a two-time World champion, and a five-time World Indoor champion. She has been the president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee since 2005.

Photo of Ivanka Khristova

3. Ivanka Khristova (1941 - 2022)

With an HPI of 50.20, Ivanka Khristova is the 3rd most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Ivanka Marinova Hristova (Bulgarian: Иванка Маринова Христова; 19 November 1941 – 24 February 2022) was a Bulgarian shot putter. She won the gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics, and the bronze in 1972. In addition she won the 1976 European Indoor Championships. Khristova died on 24 February 2022, at the age of 80.

Photo of Yordanka Blagoeva

4. Yordanka Blagoeva (1947 - )

With an HPI of 46.63, Yordanka Blagoeva is the 4th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Yordanka Blagoeva (Bulgarian: Йорданка Благоева; born 19 January 1947) is a former Bulgarian high jumper. She competed at the 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympics and finished in 17th, 2nd (silver medal), 3rd (bronze medal) and 16th place, respectively. She won the high jump at the 1965 Summer Universiade and 1973 European Athletics Indoor Championships. On 24 September 1972 she became the first Bulgarian athlete to break a world record. Next year she also set a new indoor high jump record, and was ranked as the best high jumper in Europe.In 1972 Blagova graduated from a Sports Academy. She later served as president of Bulgarian aerobics federation.She is considered to be one of Bulgaria's top athletes. In 2017, when she was aged 70, the documentary film Beyond the Jump was made to cover her life and career.

Photo of Mikhail Zhelev

5. Mikhail Zhelev (1943 - 2021)

With an HPI of 45.64, Mikhail Zhelev is the 5th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Mikhail Zhelev (Bulgarian: Михаил Желев; 15 July 1943 – 5 January 2021) was a Bulgarian athlete, known primarily for running the steeplechase. He competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics, finishing 6th and in the 1972 Summer Olympics, finishing 12th. He set his personal record of 8:25.0 while winning the race at the 1969 European Athletics Championships.

Photo of Diana Yorgova

6. Diana Yorgova (1942 - )

With an HPI of 44.17, Diana Yorgova is the 6th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Dianа Yorgova (Bulgarian: Диана Йоргова) (born 9 December 1942 in Lovech) is a former Bulgarian athlete, who competed mainly in the Long Jump. She competed for Bulgaria at the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, Germany in the Long Jump where she won the silver medal. She also competed at the 1964 Summer Olympics.Yorgova is married to Bulgarian gymnast Nikola Prodanov, whom she married during the 1964 Summer Olympics in the Olympic village.

Photo of Mariya Petkova

7. Mariya Petkova (1950 - )

With an HPI of 43.60, Mariya Petkova is the 7th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 22 different languages.

Mariya Dimitrova Petkova (Bulgarian: Мария Димитрова Петкова, née Vergova (Вергова); born 3 November 1950 in Plovdiv) is a retired Bulgarian discus thrower. In 1976 she won an Olympic silver medal behind Evelin Schlaak, a standing that would repeat itself in 1980. This year she also achieved a personal best throw of 71.80 metres. In 1982 she won a European Championship silver medal behind countrywoman Tsvetanka Khristova, who is twelve years younger. One year later Petkova won the bronze medal at the first World Championships in Athletics.

Photo of Yordanka Donkova

8. Yordanka Donkova (1961 - )

With an HPI of 43.30, Yordanka Donkova is the 8th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 27 different languages.

Yordanka Lyubchova Donkova (Bulgarian: Йорданка Любчова Донкова; born 28 September 1961) is a Bulgarian former hurdling athlete, notable for winning an Olympic gold medal and bronze medal as well as nine medals at European indoor and outdoor championships. Donkova set four 100 m hurdles world records in 1986. Her fifth world record, a time of 12.21 set in 1988, stood for almost 28 years until broken in 2016 by Kendra Harrison. In total, Donkova has 16 medals from major athletics tournaments.

Photo of Norair Nurikyan

9. Norair Nurikyan (1948 - )

With an HPI of 42.59, Norair Nurikyan is the 9th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Norair Nurikyan (Bulgarian: Норайр Нурикян, Armenian: Նորայր Նուրիկյան; born 26 July 1948) is a former Bulgarian weightlifter of Armenian descent. He is a two-time Olympic Champion and was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor of Bulgaria and Order of the Bulgaria, First Degree titles. In 1994, Nurikyan was inducted into the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame.

Photo of Halil Mutlu

10. Halil Mutlu (1973 - )

With an HPI of 41.90, Halil Mutlu is the 10th most famous Bulgarian Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Halil Mutlu (born Halil Aliev (Bulgarian: Халил Алиев) on 14 July 1973 in Postnik, Bulgaria) is a former professional Turkish weightlifter with several World and Olympic championship titles. Mutlu is one of the five weightlifters who has achieved three consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games. His weightlifting career includes five World championships, nine European championships and more than 20 world records at 52 kg (115 lb), 54 kg (119 lb) and 56 kg (123 lb) combined.

Pantheon has 33 people classified as athletes born between 1929 and 1994. Of these 33, 28 (84.85%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include Stefka Kostadinova, Yordanka Blagoeva, and Diana Yorgova. The most famous deceased athletes include Naim Süleymanoğlu, Ivanka Khristova, and Mikhail Zhelev. As of April 2022, 7 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Mikhail Zhelev, Boris Nikolov, and Petar Petrov.

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 4 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.