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

nonathlete, noun
superathlete, noun

Athlete, athletic, and athletics, normally pronounced [ath-leet] [ath-let-ik] and [ath-let-iks] are heard frequently with an epenthetic schwa, an intrusive unstressed vowel inserted between the first and second syllables: [ath-uh-leet] [ath-uh-let-ik] and [ath-uh-let-iks]. 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-uhm] for film, [el-uhm] for elm, and [ahr-thuh-rahy-tis] for arthritis, rather than the standard [film] [elm] and [ahr-thrahy-tis]. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
athlete (ˈæθliːt)
1.  a person trained to compete in sports or exercises involving physical strength, speed, or endurance
2.  a person who has a natural aptitude for physical activities
3.  chiefly (Brit) a competitor in track and field events
[C18: from Latin via Greek athlētēs, from athlein to compete for a prize, from athlos a contest]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

1520s, from L. athleta, from Gk. athletes "contestant in the games," agent noun from athlein "to contest for a prize," rel. to athlos "a contest" and athlon "a prize," of unknown origin. Before 1750, always in L. form. In this sense, O.E. had plegmann. 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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