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The 25 greatest figure skaters of all time

Figure skating is arguably the most popular competition at the Winter Olympics. And, really, it receives plenty of attention at any time of year when talking world championships, and for American fans, the national competition.

Figure skaters are some of the most popular athletes in all of sports, on the ice and off. With that in mind, here's a look at 25 of the best figure skaters — from singles to team competition — to ever take to a sheet of ice or the rink.

Listed in alphabetical order.

 
1 of 25

Brian Boitano

Brian Boitano
Colorsport/Icon Sportswire

When thinking United States figure skating of any gender, Boitano is usually near the top of the list. He won gold at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and twice stood alone at the top of the world championships in men's singles. A four-time U.S. national champion, Boitano gained fame off the ice thanks to the use of his likeness as a superhero in the animated series "South Park" and its film "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut."

 
2 of 25

Kurt Browning

Kurt Browning
Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though Browning never won an Olympic medal, he is one of the most successful and popular Canadian figure skaters of all time. A member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Browning is a four-time world champion (1989, '90, '91 and '93) and also took home a silver. When his competitive days ended, the four-time Canadian champ became one of the most sought after skating choreographers, working with the likes of Tara Lipinski, Evan Lysacek, Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu.

 
3 of 25

Richard Button

Richard Button
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

A legend not only in terms of U.S. figure skating history but also on the international stage. A two-time Olympic champion (1948, '52) and five-time world champ, Button was the youngest male skater to win Olympic gold (18 years, 202 days) and the only non-European competitor to win a European championship. He's also noted for being the first skater to land a double axel and triple loop. For years Button was a staple as a television analyst, most notably for ABC.

 
4 of 25

Patrick Chan

Patrick Chan
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Chan enjoyed success in skating's team event at the past two Winter Games. In 2014 he won silver at Sochi — where he also took home the same medal in men's singles. Four years later, the popular Canadian won team gold in South Korea. Chan also won three singles world championships from 2011-13 and claimed the Four Continents Championship three times.

 
5 of 25

John Curry

John Curry
Lindeborg/AFP via Getty Images

In 1976, the creative and supremely talented Curry won gold at both the Olympics and the world championships. Known for his style and elegance on the ice, Britain's Curry reportedly posted the highest score for a men's singles competition at the time (105.9) while placing first at the Innsbruck Games in '76. Curry, who was living with AIDS, passed away in 1994 at age 44.

 
6 of 25

Artur Dmitriev

Artur Dmitriev
David Seelig/Icon Sportswire

In some circles, Dmitriev is considered to be the best male pairs skater of all time. He's the only male skater to win Olympic gold with two different partners, first, with Natalia Mishkutionok at the 1992 Games in Albertvill and then in '98 while teamed with Oksana Kazakova at Nagano. Dmitriev and Mishkutionok also took home silver at the '94 Olympics in Lillehammer.

 
7 of 25

Peggy Fleming

Peggy Fleming
AFP/Getty Images

Another name synonymous with U.S. skating greatness, the Hall of Famer won her only Olympic gold medal at the 1968 Grenoble Games. However, Fleming was a three-time singles world champion from 1966-68. For two decades, Fleming has served as a skating commentator and analyst while remaining one of the most beloved Olympic heroes in U.S. history.

 
8 of 25

Gillis Grafström

Gillis Grafström
ullstein bild Dtl./Contributor/Getty Images

The only male singles skater to claim three Olympic gold medals, the Swede did it in 1920, '24 and '28. He also won silver in the 1932 Games at Lake Placid. Grafström is also one of two athletes to win a gold medal at both the Winter and Summer Games (1920, reportedly with a pair of store-bought skates not fit for competition). 

 
9 of 25

Dorothy Hamill

Dorothy Hamill
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

There's a good bet any young girl with dark hair living in America in the mid-to-late 1970s sported the famed Dorothy Hamill bobbed haircut. And why not? Especially in 1976, when the 19-year-old became America's skating sweetheart while winning Olympic gold and also placing first at the world championships. Hamill, who also placed second twice at the Worlds, was known for her "Hamill camel" — combination camel and sit spin. She is still celebrated on and off the ice and is a breast cancer survivor who has battled depression.

 
10 of 25

Scott Hamilton

Scott Hamilton
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Not only is Hamilton one of the greatest skaters of all time, but he remains a true ambassador for the sport — and not just in the United States. The diminutive Hamilton overcame a childhood illness to eventually win four consecutive national championships within the U.S. (1981-84) and four straight world titles. Of course, Hamilton's career highlight came with a gold at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. He's also gone on to become one of the most well known and respected skating commentators and analysts. 

 
11 of 25

Yuzuru Hanyu

Yuzuru Hanyu
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Some will argue that this Japanese wonder might be the greatest male singles skater ever to grace the ice. Not only has Hanyu won gold at the last two Winter Olympics (2014, '18), but he's twice placed first at the World Championships and has three silver medals to boot in that competition. Hanyu has set world records on 19 occasions. Did we mention he won't turn 26 until December?

 
12 of 25

Carol Heiss

Carol Heiss
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

In 1956, New York's Heiss won the silver medal at the Cortina Games. Four years later, one of the country's most popular athletes at the time, stepped up her game and won gold at the Squaw Valley Olympics. In addition to her Olympic success, Heiss finished first five times at the world championships (1957-60). When her skating career ended, Heiss spent time as an actress.

 
13 of 25

Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Often considered the greatest figure skater in the history of the sport — male or female — Norway's Henie won Olympic gold three times in ladies' singles (1928, '32 and '36) and a remarkable 10 consecutive world titles from 1927-36. Those combined championships are the most of any female. After turning pro as a skater, Henie entered the world of film, starring in such films as "One in a Million" (1936) and "Second Fiddle" (1939).

 
14 of 25

Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov

Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov
Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

OK, this will be the first of a few times we'll take the liberty of offering a skating two for one. In the realm of pairs skating, Gordeeva and Grinkov were among the best — and most tragic. The 1994 gold medalists at Lillehammer and four-time world champions were skating royalty when Grinkov collapsed during a training session in November 1995 and died from a massive attack. He was just 28 years old, and Gordeeva was 24 at the time, with a 3-year-old daughter. 

 
15 of 25

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan
DPPI/Icon Sportswire

Perhaps the greatest female skater in U.S. history, Kwan never won Olympic gold but did capture silver in 1998 and the bronze in 2002. However, Kwan is a five-time world champion and her amazing nine national titles are tied for the most in U.S. history. Kwan has also done well for herself off the ice through commentary, endorsements, film work and speaking engagements — making her one of the most popular athletes in all of American sports.

 
16 of 25

Evgenia Medvedeva

Evgenia Medvedeva
Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible a 20-year-old can be on this list? Looking at Medvedeva's skating resume, it's easy to see why she's worthy. The young Russian took home a pair of silver medals (singles, team) at the 2018 Winter Games, and she's already won two world championships (first to do so back-to-back since Michelle Kwan in 2000 and '01) and a pair of European Championship titles. Medvedeva has also posted world record scores in the short program and free skate 13 times.

 
17 of 25

Evgeni Plushenko

Evgeni Plushenko
Franck Faugere/DPPI/Icon Sportswire

Not only is Plushenko perhaps the greatest male singles skater in Russian history, but he also is right up there with the best in world. He's a four-time Olympic medalist (tied for second all time) with singles gold in 2006 and team gold in '14. Plushenko also brought home the silver medal at the 2002 and '10 Winter Games. He's a seven-time European champion, a three-time World champion, and even dabbled, though rather unsuccessfully, in politics in his homeland.

 
18 of 25

Irina Rodnina

Irina Rodnina
Lindeborg/AFP via Getty Images

Arguably the greatest pairs skater in the history of the sport, Rodnina was a force for the Soviet Union from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Rodnina is the only skater to win 10 straight world championships (1969-78) and three consecutive Olympics gold medals (1972, '76 and '80) for pairs skating. Teamed with Alexei Ulanov then Alexander Zaitsev, Rodnina was the first pairs skater to win Olympic gold with two different partners. Rodnina has found a second career as a Russian politician. 

 
19 of 25

Ulrich Salchow

Ulrich Salchow
PA Images via Getty Images

During the early portion of the 20th century, there were not many better than Sweden's Salchow. He won gold at the 1908 Olympics in London (back when skating was held during the Summer Games), but his real claim to fame at the time were his 10 world championship gold medals in men's singles. The latter is still a world record for men and shared with the great Sonja Henie and Irina Rodnina.

 
20 of 25

Aljona Savchenko

Aljona Savchenko
Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to pairs skating, it does not get much better than Savchenko. She began her career skating for her native Ukraine, then under the German flag with Robin Szolkowy. Together, the two won five world titles and a pair of Olympic bronze medals in 2010 and '14. When Szolkowy retired, Savchenko teamed with Bruno Massot and she didn't skip a beat. That pair won gold at the 2018 Games and holds the world record for the best free skate and total score. 

 
21 of 25

Karl Schäfer

Karl Schäfer
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Back in the 1930s, there were not many male skaters better than the Austrian Schäfer. He won seven consecutive world titles from 1930-36. During that stretch, Schäfer, also an elite swimmer who competed in the Olympics, won gold at the 1932 Winter Games and again in 1936. Schäfer was also an eight-time European champion.  

 
22 of 25

Jayne Torvill/Christopher Dean

Jayne Torvill/Christopher Dean
Trevor Jones/Allsport/Getty Images

When it comes to ice dancing, the conversation really must begin with the legendary pair of Great Britain's Torvill and Dean. At the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, the pair delivered a passionate and sensuous performance to Ravel's "Boléro." The routine received all perfect 6.0s for artistic impression and remains one of the greatest competitive moments in Olympic history — Winter or Summer. Ten years later, the four-time, world championship-winning pair returned to capture Olympic bronze at Lillehammer.

 
23 of 25

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Andrew Nelles/USA TODAY Sports

No skaters in the history of the Olympics — over all disciplines — have won more medals than the five claimed by the Canadian pair of Virtue and Moir. They won a total of three gold medals: two in 2018 at South Korea for ice dancing and the team competition, with the other for dance in 2010. They also won a pair of silvers in 2014 for the same two events. The three-time ice dancing world championship winners reportedly began skating together when they were each younger than 10 years old.

 
24 of 25

Katarina Witt

Katarina Witt
Bongarts/Getty Images

When we talk the greats in the world, regardless of gender, Witt should be at the forefront of that conversation. Witt won singles gold for East Germany at the 1984 and '88 Winter Games. In addition, she is a four-time world champion and joined Sonja Henie in winning six consecutive European Championships (1983-88). Witt's post-skating career has included some acting gigs on such TV hits as "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Arli$$" as well as big-screen smash "Jerry Maguire."

 
25 of 25

Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The gold-medal winner at Albertville in 1992, Yamaguchi is one of the most recognizable figures in the history of international figure skating. In addition to her Olympic gold, Yamaguchi placed first at the world championships for ladies' singles in 1991 and '92. She was also the world junior champ in 1988. Off the ice, Yamaguchi is probably best known for winning Season 6 of "Dancing with the Stars."

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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