Dancing With The Stars’ Athlete Competitors RankedPublished on May 1, 2018. Updated August 20, 2020
After 25 seasons, Dancing With the Stars decided to shake things up for season 26 with a more concise all-athletes edition for the first time ever. While longtime fans of the series are torn about only celebrity athletes competing this season, the fact is that athletes have been some of the most successful on the show. Over the past 25 seasons more than 60 athletes from different areas of the sports industry have tested out their fancy footwork on the dancefloor and, while some have flailed, many others have found success. Out of 25 completed seasons, an athlete has won 10 times and athletes have placed in the top three 23 times! Now, with all athletes competing, take a look back at 12 of the best that that the show has seen so far:
12. James Hinchcliffe – Season 23
Although the NFL and Olympians have been well-represented when it comes to athlete competitors on Dancing With the Stars, far fewer racecar drivers have taken on the challenge. When James Hinchcliffe joined season 23, expectations were not high for the man who was better known for his fast driving than fancy footwork. Quite a few athletes competed on Dancing With the Stars in season 23, but it didn’t take long for Hinchcliffe to stand out and surprise the judges and audiences, not to mention he was incredibly charming which only had more people rooting for him. Although he came in second place with Sharna Burgess behind Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and Val Chmerkovskiy, Hinchcliffe cemented himself as one of the most memorable and beloved athletes to compete on the show.
11. Donald Driver – Season 14
One thing that Dancing With the Stars fans have come to realize over the show’s many seasons is that when it comes to athletes, the one edge they have is knowing exactly when to give it their all to come out on top, and that is exactly what Donald Driver did. The former Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver competed in season 14 of the show with Peta Murgatroyd and despite the fact that he was beaten in total points by both Katherine Jenkins and William Levy, it was still Driver who took home the Mirrorball Trophy. A win is impressive no matter what, but when it comes to the skill of other athletes who have won, there is no denying that Driver doesn’t quite match up.
10. Rashad Jennings – Season 24
NFL running back Rashad Jennings became the fourth NFL star to win the Mirrorball Trophy after he competed on season 24 of Dancing With the Stars alongside Emma Slater. Although running backs are known for being agile and athletic, many didn’t have high expectations for Jennings, but he surprised everyone with several top scores over the weeks and a lightness on the dance floor that was jaw-dropping. In the end, Jennings and Slater actually had nine less total points than third place finishers Normani Kordei and Val Chmerkovskiy which makes it another controversial win with some not agreeing that Jennings deserved the trophy.
9. Helio Castroneves – Season 5
For many longtime Dancing With the Stars fans, racecar driver Helio Castroneves and Julianne Hough will always be one of the best matched duos out of any of the seasons. No one was sure what to expect in terms of skill from Castroneves but he was quick to impress with how quickly he learned difficult dances and tough choreography. Despite the fact that Spice Girls’ member Mel B. and her partner Maks Chmerkovskiy actually beat Castroneves and Hough by seven total points, it was the driver that fans couldn’t get enough of, landing him one of the most shocking Mirrorball Trophy wins. Although he was good, the same questions of if he really deserved to win came back to haunt him when he competed in the All-Stars season and only came in 10th.
8. Kristi Yamaguchi – Season 6
Season six of Dancing With the Stars was another battle of the athletes when it all came down to figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and NFL player Jason Taylor in the finale. While both were extremely impressive, there is no denying just how amazing Yamaguchi was. Out of the 12 weeks of competition she and her partner Mark Ballas ended up with 10 of the top scores which helped her easily beat out Jason Taylor when it came to total scores. Although surprise finales certainly aren’t unheard of on the fast-paced show, there was no doubt that Yamaguchi was walking away with the win after her complete domination of the entire season, which makes her one of the best athletes to ever compete on Dancing With the Stars.
7. Hines Ward – Season 12
As one of the most legendary Pittsburgh Steelers to ever play, wide receiver Hines Ward was a surprise entry into the season 12 competition, but his grace on the dancefloor was even more surprising. Although wide receivers are known for their fast and tricky footwork, no one was expecting Ward to perform on the dancefloor at such a high level. Ward and his pro partner Kym Johnson easily danced away with the Mirrorball Trophy win after scoring 401 total points, but what audiences loved more than seeing his skill in ballroom dance was getting to see more and more of his easy-going personality and charm which was hard to showcase in his NFL career.
6. Apolo Anton Ohno – Season 4
While many have come after him, Apolo Anton Ohno holds the distinction of being the first Winter Olympics athlete to compete on Dancing With the Stars, and also happened to be the winner of his season! The short track speed skater was paired with Julianne Hough for the difficult season in which he used his finesse to edge out the win by only one point ahead of Joey McIntyre and Kym Johnson. Although he has gone down as one of the biggest fan favorite athletes to compete on Dancing With the Stars, Ohno only lands sixth on this list because of his fall from the top when he returned in season 15 for the All-Stars and came in fifth with partner Karina Smirnoff behind other athletes including Shawn Johnson and Emmitt Smith.
5. Amy Purdy – Season 18
Even though it was ice dancer Meryl Davis who won season 18, it was runner-up Amy Purdy who became one of the most memorable celebrity-athletes to grace the show. The Paralympic snowboarder lost both her legs below the knee at only 19 years old, and since she didn’t let it stop her from becoming an incredible snowboarder, she certainly didn’t let it stop her from dancing. Purdy along with her pro partner Derek Hough absolutely amazed audiences each and every week as she made it clear that no routine was too tough to master with prosthetic legs. By the end of the season, she had proven herself to be just as talented on the dance floor as she is the slopes, which makes her the only athlete who came in second to rank so high on this list.
4. Laurie Hernandez – Season 23
With three athletes placing in the top three for Dancing With the Stars’ 23rd season, it was a hard fought victory for Laurie Hernandez. Laurie and Val Chmerkovskiy beat out racecar driver James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess by only five total points, and in the process, she became the youngest ever winner of the show at only 16 years old! Throughout the entire season, Laurie’s natural athleticism and being light on her feet gave her the grace to master routines and share both her fun and mature sides, all while charming fans and judges along the way.
3. Emmitt Smith – Season 3
Although everyone knew that Emmitt Smith could dominate the football field, they weren’t so sure if his fancy footwork on the field would translate to the dance floor, but it definitely did. The former NFL running back was locked in a tight competition with actor Mario Lopez throughout all of season three and despite finishing the season with less total points than Lopez, Smith used all his momentum with partner Cheryl Burke to pull off a huge win in the finale. Emmitt Smith’s win was so big, the season three finale is still the highest rated Dancing With the Stars finale to date, and to top it off he went on to compete in the All-Stars season and had a very strong showing, coming in fourth and as the top male of the season!
2. Meryl Davis – Season 18
Season 18 of Dancing With the Stars had a wide variety of stars from singers to actors, and of course, athletes, but it didn’t take long for Olympic champion ice dancer Meryl Davis to stand-out. Over the course of the season, Davis and her pro partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy received the highest score an incredible nine times, and simply made every dance and choreographed routine look easy. Along with her natural talent on the dance floor, the chemistry between Davis and Chmerkovskiy was show-stopping which only made audiences more intrigued through every single week.
1. Shawn Johnson – Seasons 8 and 15
Season eight of Dancing With the Stars saw some of the show’s toughest competition, especially between actor Gilles Marini and gymnast Shawn Johnson. Even though Marini’s scores were better, Johnson pushed harder than ever and ended up winning out in the final vote in one of the most memorable Mirrorball Trophy wins. After a spectacular season and win, Johnson returned for season 15’s All-Star edition and found herself battling it out this time with Melissa Rycroft who came in third behind Johnson and Marini back in season eight. Although Johnson and Derek Hough lost out to Rycroft and Tony Dovolani in the All-Stars’ season, the gymnast proved herself to be the best athlete to compete on the show so far.