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.

1954
Roger Bannister
SI's first Sportsman was a 25-year-old from England—and history's first sub-four-minute miler.

1955
Johnny Podres
The Brooklyn southpaw's superb Series against the Yankees culminated with a Game 7 masterpiece.

1956
Bobby Morrow
At the Melbourne Olympics he was the first U.S. man in 20 years to win gold in both the 100 and 200 meters.

1957
Stan Musial
Mr. Cardinal was 37 when he led the National League with a .351 average to win his seventh batting title.

1958
Rafer Johnson
He broke the world decathlon record in Moscow, winning over the crowd even as the cold war raged.

1959
Ingemar Johansson
The Hammer of Thor became the heavyweight champ after flattening Floyd Patterson at Yankee Stadium.

1960
Arnold Palmer
The Palmer era began with Arnie's banner year: eight wins, including the Masters and the U.S. Open.

1961
Jerry Lucas
Ohio State's junior center led the Buckeyes to their second of three straight NCAA-final appearances.

1962
Terry Baker
A Heisman Trophy winner, the Oregon State quarterback doubled as the Beavers' point guard.

1963
Pete Rozelle
The 37-year-old commissioner restored the NFL's integrity by responding decisively to a betting scandal.

1964
Ken Venturi
A brilliant final two rounds in the U.S. Open gave the comeback kid his first tournament win in four years.

1965
Sandy Koufax
The Dodger was an ace—2.04 ERA, a perfect game, two Series shutouts—despite an arthritic left elbow.

1966
Jim Ryun
Just one year after graduating from Wichita High East, he ran the mile in 3:51.3 to shatter the world record.

1967
Carl Yastrzemski
The leftfielder's Triple Crown summer propelled the Red Sox to their first pennant in two decades.

1968
Bill Russell
As player-coach he broke racial barriers and guided the Celtics to their ninth title in 10 years.

1969
Tom Seaver
In a Terrific year he earned his first Cy Young Award and helped the Mets to their miracle championship.

1970
Bobby Orr
The Beantown hero, whose "flying goal" clinched the Stanley Cup, redefined the role of defenseman.

1971
Lee Trevino
In winning the U.S., British and Canadian Opens, the Merry Mex broadened the appeal of his sport.

1972
John Wooden & Billie Jean King
The Wizard of Westwood led UCLA to a sixth straight NCAA title; the first Sportswoman won three majors.

1973
Jackie Stewart
After winning his third World Driving Championships and popularizing Formula One racing, he retired at his peak.

1974
Muhammad Ali
The Greatest pummeled Joe Frazier in the Garden and took back his title from George Foreman in the jungle.

1975
Pete Rose
The heart of the Big Red Machine, Charlie Hustle sparked an unforgettable World Series win over Boston.

1976
Chris Evert
At 21 America's Sweetheart had already claimed two Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens and two French Opens.

1977
Steve Cauthen
He won 487 races and set a one-year earnings record of $6 million—all at the age of 17.

1978
Jack Nicklaus
In winning the British Open and the Players Championship at 38, he ended all talk of his decline.

1979
Willie Stargell & Terry Bradshaw
The slugger and the slinger, MVPs of the World Series and the Super Bowl, were the toast of Steel Town.

1980
U.S. Olympic Hockey Team
Herb Brooks's miracle men shocked the world at Lake Placid with their upset of the Soviet Union.

1981
Sugar Ray Leonard
With a knockout of Tommy Hearns in Las Vegas, the welterweight champ became the new king of boxing.

1982
Wayne Gretzky
The Great One had his greatest year, shattering the NHL's single-season records for goals and assists.

1983
Mary Decker
The distance queen had broken seven world records before her famous fall at the Los Angeles Olympics.

1984
Mary Lou Retton & Edwin Moses
Stars of the L.A. Games, Retton landed a perfect 10 while Moses ran his hurdling winning streak to 109 races.

1985
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
With his signature skyhook, he lifted the Lakers to the NBA title and earned a second Finals MVP award.

1986
Joe Paterno
JoePa led the Lions to a national title and a perfect record off the field too: Every senior graduated on time.

1987
Athletes Who Care
Eight athletes from different sports were honored for their exemplary humanitarian work.

1988
Orel Hershiser
A magical season for the Dodgers' righty: 59 straight scoreless innings, a Cy Young and a World Series MVP.

1989
Greg LeMond
Just two years after a near-fatal hunting accident, he rallied in the final stage to win his second Tour de France.

1990
Joe Montana
With cool, Joe quarterbacked the 49ers to a fourth Super Bowl win in his final full season by the Bay.

1991
Michael Jordan
Already the NBA's leading scorer and a global icon, MJ won his first ring by beating the Lakers in five games.

1992
Arthur Ashe
A three-time Grand Slam winner and untiring social activist, the tennis star died in 1993 from AIDS.

1993
Don Shula
In 30 years (23 with Miami) he had just two losing seasons—and more wins than any other NFL coach.

1994
Bonnie Blair & Johann Olav Koss
The speedskating stars of the Lillehammer Games were golden on the ice and in their communities.

1995
Cal Ripken Jr.
After the Strike crippled the national pastime, the Streak by the Orioles' Iron Man brought fans back.

1996
Tiger Woods
As a PGA rookie, he won two events and electrified the golf world, attracting a new generation of fans.

1997
Dean Smith
North Carolina's widely respected coach retired after setting the NCAA record for victories (879).

1998
Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa
Before their fall from grace, the sluggers captivated the baseball world with their epic home run chase.

1999
U.S. Women's Soccer Team
Mia Hamm (9) and the rest of the World Cup champs gave America a summer to remember.

2000
Tiger Woods
A mind-bending year—10 Tour wins, including three majors—turned Tiger into our first two-time Sportsman.

2001
Curt Schilling & Randy Johnson
Thanks to the fireballing co-MVPs, Arizona defeated a Yankees juggernaut in a seven-game Series.

2002
Lance Armstrong
The Texas Tornado blew past the field for a fourth straight time at the Tour de France.

2003
Tim Duncan & David Robinson
The Alamo City's Twin Towers stood tall after taking the Spurs to a second NBA championship in five years.

2004
Boston Red Sox
A curse and the 86-year suffering of a city came to an end as the Red Sox achieved an improbable title.

2005
Tom Brady
A third Super Bowl ring in four years proved that the Patriots' QB belonged among the alltime greats.

2006
Dwyane Wade
The fourth-year guard led the Heat to a championship with an otherworldly performance in the playoffs.

2007
Brett Favre
In the final act of his Packers career, the Lambeau legend, at 38, set the record for touchdown passes.

2008
Michael Phelps
There has never been an Olympic haul like it: eight events, eight gold medals in Beijing.

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BREAKING NEWS, REAL-TIME SCORES AND DAILY ANALYSIS.

THROUGH THE YEARS

Read Sportsman stories from 1954 to '96 in their original layouts and view a photo gallery of the winners.

SI.COM/ALLTIMESPORTSMEN

FIFTY FIVE PHOTOSWALTER IOOSS JR. (7); BRIAN LANKER (5); MICHAEL O'NEILL (4); LANE STEWART (3); JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN (3); JAMES DRAKE (2); HEINZ KLUETMEIER (2); RICHARD MEEK (2); TONY TRIOLO (2); MARK ABRAHAMS/PMI; TOM ALLEN; AP; NEAL BARR; PHIL BATH; RICH CLARKSON; PIER CONSAGRA; ANTHONY EDGEWORTH; JACK FIELDS; GRAHAM FINLAYSON; GETTY IMAGES; STEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGE; RICHARD HESS; HERMAN L. HOLBROOK; ROBERT HUNTZINGER; LYNN JOHNSON; FRED KAPLAN; JONAS KARLSSON; MARK KAUFFMAN; NEIL LEIFER; JAY MAISEL; SHARON MCCORMACK; MANNY MILLAN; PETER READ MILLER; RONALD C. MODRA; MARVIN E. NEWMAN; STEVE POWELL; GERARD RANCINAN; ROBERT RIGER; LARRY RIVERS; BEN ROSE; ROBERT SILVERS WWW.PHOTOMOSAIC.COM; MARK SUMMERS; LAUREN URAM; ROBERT WEAVER

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