Fifty-four years ago, in announcing the inaugural award, SI wrote that the annual honoree would be one who "gave to the quality of unprecedented performance the sense of unrepeatable performance." That description fits perfectly the latest recipient, Michael Phelps, who now keeps company with this distinguished elite.
SI's first Sportsman was a 25-year-old from England—and history's first sub-four-minute miler.
The Brooklyn southpaw's superb Series against the Yankees culminated with a Game 7 masterpiece.
At the Melbourne Olympics he was the first U.S. man in 20 years to win gold in both the 100 and 200 meters.
Mr. Cardinal was 37 when he led the National League with a .351 average to win his seventh batting title.
He broke the world decathlon record in Moscow, winning over the crowd even as the cold war raged.
The Hammer of Thor became the heavyweight champ after flattening Floyd Patterson at Yankee Stadium.
The Palmer era began with Arnie's banner year: eight wins, including the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Ohio State's junior center led the Buckeyes to their second of three straight NCAA-final appearances.
A Heisman Trophy winner, the Oregon State quarterback doubled as the Beavers' point guard.