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Motivation From the Best Athletes of All Time

Athletes have been around for millennia: Cave paintings in France seem to depict sprinting and wrestling as far back as 15,300 years ago, while prehistoric art in Japan shows a sport similar to sumo wrestling. But when the first Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece in 776 BCE, they ushered in a new age of athletic achievement, and the rise of the sporting superstar.

The ancient runner Leonidas of Rhodes became a legend after winning 12 Olympic victories; the boxer Theagenes of Thasos supposedly won 1,300 bouts; and Milo of Croton was a wrestler of immense strength who dominated for decades, until — according to legend — he tried to split a tree with his bare hands, became stuck, and was eaten by wolves. In ancient Rome, meanwhile, there was Gaius Appuleius Diocles, a chariot racer whose knack for winning high-paying events saw him become one of the wealthiest men in Rome, with a total earnings of around $15 billion in today’s dollars.

Not even Michael Jordan, the richest athlete in the world today, is close to $15 billion, but today’s athletes are just as inspiring. They embody determination and excellence, and often have hard-earned wisdom to share about success, dedication, perseverance, and more. Here are 20 motivating quotes from some of the most legendary champions of the past several decades, from Jesse Owens to Simone Biles.

Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing in it.
Jesse Owens

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You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
Wayne Gretzky

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I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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Overpower. Overtake. Overcome.
Serena Williams

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Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.
Michael Jordan

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It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you down. It's the pebble in your shoe.
Muhammad Ali

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Excellence is the result of a journey, a journey taken by a committed individual, who begins the trip knowing her path will include a thousand failures. But the only real failure is the failure to get back up.
Lindsey Vonn

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Never let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging.
Babe Ruth

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A man who wins is a man who thinks he can.
Roger Federer

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Worrying gets you nowhere. If you turn up worrying about how you’re going to perform, you’ve already lost. Train hard, turn up, run your best, and the rest will take care of itself.
Usain Bolt

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If you can't dream big, ridiculous dreams, what's the point in dreaming at all?
Ronda Rousey

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Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.
Mia Hamm

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The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.
Pelé

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You dream. You plan. You reach. There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.
Michael Phelps

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Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can't.
Jerry Rice

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Nothing is given. Everything is earned.
LeBron James

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You were never Little Red Riding Hood. You were always the wolf.
Abby Wambach

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It's not wanting to win that makes you a winner; it's refusing to fail.
Peyton Manning

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The greatest thing about tomorrow is I will be better than I am today. And that's how I look at my life… That's the beauty of tomorrow.
Tiger Woods

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I’d rather regret the risk that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.
Simone Biles

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Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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