a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.

Origin of athlete

1520–30; < Latin āthlēta < Greek āthlētḗs, equivalent to āthlē- (variant stem of āthleîn to contend for a prize, derivative of âthlos a contest) + -tēs suffix of agency
Related formsnon·ath·lete, nounsu·per·ath·lete, noun

Pronunciation note

Athlete, athletic, and athletics, normally pronounced [ath-leet] /ˈæθ lit/, [ath-let-ik] /æθˈlɛt ɪk/, and [ath-let-iks] /æθˈlɛt ɪks/, are heard frequently with an epenthetic schwa, an intrusive unstressed vowel inserted between the first and second syllables: [ath-uh-leet] /ˈæθ əˌlit/, [ath-uh-let-ik] /ˌæθ əˈlɛt ɪk/, and [ath-uh-let-iks] /ˌæθ əˈlɛt ɪks/. The pronunciations containing the extra syllable are usually considered nonstandard, in spite of their widespread use on radio and television. Pronunciations with similarly intrusive vowels are also heard, though with less currency, for other words, as [fil-uh m] /ˈfɪl əm/ for film, [el-uh m] /ˈɛl əm/ for elm, and [ahr-thuh-rahy-tis] /ˌɑr θəˈraɪ tɪs/ for arthritis, rather than the standard [film] /fɪlm/, [elm] /ɛlm/, and [ahr-thrahy-tis] /ɑrˈθraɪ tɪs/. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for athlete

Contemporary Examples of athlete

Historical Examples of athlete

  • It was blank on one side, but, at the sight of the reverse the athlete uttered a cry.

    Batting to Win

    Lester Chadwick

  • He flung aside the whole work, got to his feet with the imperative need of an athlete for the open.


    T.S. Stribling

  • The prince was an athlete, but the man holding him was at this moment made of iron.

    The Lure of the Mask

    Harold MacGrath

  • He fancied himself an athlete of possibilities and a supple dancer.

    This Side of Paradise

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • He is perfectly healthy, but he is slight, and will never be an athlete.

British Dictionary definitions for athlete



a person trained to compete in sports or exercises involving physical strength, speed, or endurance
a person who has a natural aptitude for physical activities
mainly British a competitor in track and field events

Word Origin for athlete

C18: from Latin via Greek athlētēs, from athlein to compete for a prize, from athlos a contest
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for athlete

early 15c., from Latin athleta "a wrestler, athlete, combatant in public games," from Greek athletes "prizefighter, contestant in the games," agent noun from athlein "to contest for a prize," related to athlos "a contest" and athlon "a prize," of unknown origin. Before 1750, usually in Latin form. In this sense, Old English had plegmann "play-man." Athlete's foot first recorded 1928, for an ailment that has been around much longer.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper