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[ath-leet] /ˈæθ lit/
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.
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 forms
nonathlete, noun
superathlete, noun
Pronunciation note
Athlete, athletic, and athletics, normally pronounced
[ath-leet] /ˈæθ lit/ (Show IPA)
[ath-let-ik] /æθˈlɛt ɪk/
[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/
[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/
[ahr-thrahy-tis] /ɑrˈθraɪ tɪs/
. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for athletes
  • But hybrid athletes must bear an additional burden-convincing people that their sports are actually sports.
  • These points could also be awarded to athletes or children of alumni etc.
  • These thermometers have lately been adopted by some athletes.
  • Going overboard in attempts to rehydrate is also common among endurance athletes.
  • Or they have happy, healthy kids who are athletes or musicians.
  • Extreme is a journey into the soul of adventure featuring a cast of world champion athletes.
  • For a two-week span, athletes from dozens of countries compete against each other in scores of different sports.
  • Fraternity brothers aside, few segments of the population have more nicknames than professional athletes.
  • These morning press conferences, writers and athletes understand, are not meant to be serious inquisitions.
  • The mental athletes had ten minutes to memorize two decks of shuffled cards.
British Dictionary definitions for athletes


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 Brit) a competitor in track and field events
Word Origin
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
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Word Origin and History for athletes



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
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