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The Most Famous

ATHLETES from South Africa

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This page contains a list of the greatest South African Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,059 Athletes, 32 of which were born in South Africa. This makes South Africa the birth place of the 33rd most number of Athletes behind Bulgaria and Croatia.

Top 10

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

Photo of Oscar Pistorius

1. Oscar Pistorius (1986 - )

With an HPI of 51.34, Oscar Pistorius is the most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 61 different languages on wikipedia.

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius ( pist-OR-ee-əs, Afrikaans: [pəˈstuəriœs]; born 22 November 1986) is a South African former professional sprinter and convicted murderer. Both of his feet were amputated when he was 11 months old as a result of a congenital defect; he was born missing the outside of both feet and both fibulae. Pistorius ran in both nondisabled sprint events and in sprint events for below-knee amputees. He was the 10th athlete to compete at both the Paralympic Games and Olympic Games. After becoming a Paralympic champion, Pistorius attempted to enter nondisabled international competitions, over persistent objections by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and arguments that his artificial limbs gave an unfair advantage. Pistorius prevailed in this legal dispute. At the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, Pistorius was the first amputee to win a nondisabled world track medal. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Pistorius was the first double-leg amputee participant. On 14 February 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, paralegal and model Reeva Steenkamp, in his Pretoria home. He claimed he had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the bathroom. He was arrested and charged with murder. At his trial the following year, Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of culpable homicide. He received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended sentence for a separate reckless endangerment conviction.Pistorius was temporarily released on house arrest in 2015 while the case was presented on appeal to a panel at the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, which overturned the culpable homicide verdict and convicted him of murder. In July 2016, Judge Thokozile Masipa extended Pistorius's sentence to six years. On appeal by the state for a longer prison sentence, the Supreme Court of Appeal increased the prison term to a total of 15 years. Pistorius is slated to be released on parole on 5 January 2024.

Photo of Esther Brand

2. Esther Brand (1922 - 2015)

With an HPI of 51.05, Esther Brand is the 2nd most famous South African Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Esther Cornelia Brand (née van Heerden; 29 September 1922 – 20 June 2015) was a South African athlete. She competed at the 1952 Summer Olympics and won a gold medal in the high jump, placed 20th in the discus throw. She was the first African woman to win an Olympic track and field event. Brand was ranked world #1 in the high jump in 1940–41 and 1952, #3 in 1951 and #5 in 1939. In 1941 she equaled the world record of 1.66 m.Born in Springbok, Northern Cape, she attended Maitland High School in Cape Town, South Africa. She died after a fall in 2015.

Photo of Reggie Walker

3. Reggie Walker (1889 - 1951)

With an HPI of 50.44, Reggie Walker is the 3rd most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Reginald Edgar Walker (16 March 1889 in Durban – 5 November 1951) was a South African athlete and the 1908 Olympic champion in the 100 metres.Born in the Colony of Natal, Walker, the 1907 South African Champion, was not among the big favourites for the 100 metres at the 1908 Summer Olympics. He even had trouble getting to London, as he lacked the necessary finances until a Natal sportswriter collected funds to support Walker's travel. In England, he was coached by Sam Mussabini, later also the coach of Harold Abrahams. Several of the big names did not qualify for the final, but Walker did. His first round was a relatively easy victory run in 11.0 seconds. In the second round, Walker edged out William W. May of the United States while tying the Olympic record of 10.8 seconds. This qualified him for the final. There he competed against three North Americans, including James Rector of the United States, who had equalled the Olympic Record in both of the qualifier rounds. Walker beat Rector in the final by about a foot and half, again equaling the Olympic record in 10.8 seconds. Walker is still the youngest winner of the Olympic 100 metres as of 2021 (at 19 years and 128 days). During World War I, Walker served with the 7th Infantry in German South West Africa, before joining the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force in 1917, serving in France, during which time he received a gunshot wound to the head. Walker was discharged from the Army in 1919 and later worked as a clerk with Ropes & Mattings in Nairobi, Kenya Colony, before returning to South Africa.

Photo of Sid Atkinson

4. Sid Atkinson (1901 - 1977)

With an HPI of 46.96, Sid Atkinson is the 4th most famous South African Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Sidney James Montford Atkinson (14 March 1901 – 31 August 1977) was a South African athlete, winner of 110 m hurdles at the 1928 Summer Olympics.Atkinson came onto the international athletics scene in 1922, when he ran the 110 m hurdles in 15.2 and the 400 m hurdles in 56.5. He was also a notable long jumper.At the 1924 Summer Olympics, the favourite for the 110 m hurdles was American George Guthrie, but as the race started, Atkinson and another American Daniel Kinsey got off to a quick start and ran nearly together until the eighth flight when Atkinson edged ahead. Atkinson clipped his toe on the last barrier, giving Kinsey enough of lead to break the tape and win the gold. Guthrie crashed through the barriers behind the two medalists and was disqualified.Atkinson reappeared at the next Olympics, finally getting his gold after the disappointment of 1924, beating the world record holder Steve Anderson from the United States into second place.

Photo of Bevil Rudd

5. Bevil Rudd (1894 - 1948)

With an HPI of 46.34, Bevil Rudd is the 5th most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 22 different languages.

Bevil Gordon D'Urban Rudd (5 October 1894 – 2 February 1948) was a South African athlete, the 1920 Olympic Champion in the 400 metres.

Photo of Marjorie Clark

6. Marjorie Clark (1909 - 1993)

With an HPI of 41.67, Marjorie Clark is the 6th most famous South African Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Marjorie Rees Clark (later Smith, 6 November 1909 – 15 June 1993) was a South African former track and field athlete, who competed in the 1928 Summer Olympics and in the 1932 Summer Olympics. She was born in Bulwer, KwaZulu-Natal and competed for the Albion Ladies Athletic Club.In 1928 Clark finished fifth in the Olympic high jump event. She also participated in the 100 m competition, but was eliminated in the semi-finals. Four years later she won the bronze medal in the 80 m hurdles contest at the 1932 Olympics. In the 1932 high jump event she finished fifth again and in the 100 m competition, but was eliminated in the first round. Also at 1928 Women's Amateur Association Championships Miss Clark won both the 100 yds hurdles & high jump. At the 1934 British Empire Games she won the gold medal in the 80 m hurdles contest as well as in the high jump event. As a member of the South African relay team she finished fourth in the 110-220-110 yards competition. In the 100 yards contest and in the 220 yards event she was eliminated in the first round.

Photo of Caster Semenya

7. Caster Semenya (1991 - )

With an HPI of 40.94, Caster Semenya is the 7th most famous South African Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Mokgadi Caster Semenya OIB (born 7 January 1991) is a South African middle-distance runner and winner of two Olympic gold medals and three World Championships in the women's 800 metres. She first won gold at the World Championships in 2009 and went on to win at the 2016 Olympics and the 2017 World Championships, where she also won a bronze medal in the 1500 metres. After the doping disqualification of Mariya Savinova, she was also awarded gold medals for the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.Semenya has the intersex condition 5α-Reductase 2 deficiency, which only affects genetic males. Individuals with this condition have normal male internal structures that are not fully masculinized during the embryo's development, resulting in external genitalia that appear ambiguous or female at birth. Although Semenya was assigned female at birth, she has XY chromosomes, undescended testes, and naturally high testosterone levels in the typical male range. However, Semenya has rejected the label of "intersex," calling herself "a different kind of woman."Following Semenya's victory at the 2009 World Championships, she was made to undergo sex testing, and cleared to return to competition the following year. In 2019, new World Athletics rules came into force preventing athletes like Semenya with certain disorders of sex development (DSDs) from participating in 400m, 800m, and 1500m events in the female classification, unless they take medication to suppress their naturally high testosterone levels. Semenya has filed a series of legal cases to restore her ability to compete in these events without testosterone suppression, arguing that the World Athletics rules are discriminatory.

Photo of Christian Gitsham

8. Christian Gitsham (1888 - 1956)

With an HPI of 40.92, Christian Gitsham is the 8th most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Christopher William "Chris" Gitsham (15 October 1888 – 16 June 1956) was a South African athlete, who mainly competed in the men's marathon.Gitsham competed for South Africa at the 1912 Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden where he won the silver medal in the men's marathon event. He also competed in the marathon at the 1920 Summer Olympics, but did not finish.

Photo of Lawrence Stevens

9. Lawrence Stevens (1913 - 1989)

With an HPI of 39.62, Lawrence Stevens is the 9th most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Lawrence Stevens (25 February 1913 – 17 August 1989) was a South African boxer who competed in the 1932 Summer Olympics. He was born in Johannesburg and died in Durban, Natal. Both of his parents were born and raised in Johannesburg, all four of his grandparents were immigrants from England. In 1930, he won the featherweight silver medal at the 1930 British Empire Games after losing the final to Frank Meachem. Two years later, he won the gold medal in the lightweight class after winning the final against Thure Ahlqvist. Stevens was mentioned on the British quiz show Pointless on 26 January 2016, where South Africa was a "pointless answer" in the category of "Countries that won a gold medal winners at the 1932 or 1936 Summer Olympics". Of Cornish descent, he was known as 'the Gentleman Boxer'. On the way home from the Olympics, a fellow passenger in the liner persistently asked Laurie to go a few rounds with him in the gym, eventually Laurie agreed and after two rounds, woke up to the fact that the fellow passenger was trying to knock him out, so that he could claim an Olympic Gold scalp. Laurie said 'enough Chum' and that was the end of a dream. He fought in the Desert during the Second World War. In the postwar years he owned a factory and a sports shop in Rissik Street, Johannesburg. A handsome, laughing man, he always cried when recalling the raising of the Union Flag and the playing of God Save The King on the day he won his Olympic gold medal.

Photo of Clarence Walker

10. Clarence Walker (1898 - 1957)

With an HPI of 39.52, Clarence Walker is the 10th most famous South African Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Clarence Leonard "Sal" Walker (13 December 1898 – 30 April 1957) was a South African bantamweight professional boxer who competed in the early 1920s. He won the gold medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics, defeating Chris Graham in the final. He was born in Port Elizabeth, and died in Roodepoort, Gauteng. His paternal grandfather was from Scotland.

Pantheon has 32 people classified as athletes born between 1888 and 1993. Of these 32, 22 (68.75%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include Oscar Pistorius, Caster Semenya, and Zola Budd. The most famous deceased athletes include Esther Brand, Reggie Walker, and Sid Atkinson. As of April 2022, 7 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Marjorie Clark, Christian Gitsham, and Lawrence Stevens.

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 9 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.