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What is the word to describe a person who popularized a sport? The person does not need to be one of the original players nor even currently active. An example is Arnold Schwarzenegger popularizing competitive bodybuilding. There were many superstar bodybuilders before him, like Eugen Sandow, and he has been inactive for a decade. Arnold is, no doubt, the reason why many people started bodybuilding.

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The word 'champion' might be used in the sense of an advocate or proponent, however in the context of sport the use of 'champion' may be ambiguous. There's always 'popularizer'... –  Snubian May 3 '11 at 5:42
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what about flag-bearer? –  JoseK May 3 '11 at 10:45
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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

try poster child

One who is a prototypical or quintessential example of something.

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Here are some possibilities:

Arnold was bodybuilding's golden boy
Arnold was bodybuilding's darling
Arnold is bodybuilding's icon
Anrold is bodybuilding's living legend
Arnold is bodybuilding's guru
Arnold is bodybuilding's paragon

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Consider

  • trailblazer — "(figuratively) An innovative leader in a field; a pioneer."
  • pioneer — "One who goes before ... preparing the way for others to follow" eg "Some people will consider their national heroes to be pioneers of civilization"
  • star — "A widely-known person; a celebrity. ... An exceptionally talented person, often in a specific field."
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I might add to this list: Father "Billy is the father of modern widget tossing." –  TecBrat Jun 3 '12 at 17:48
    
Trailblazer is the most appropriate here I think. –  dwjohnston May 19 at 4:54
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I'd propose modifying the idiom the face of.

Particularly in sports, you hear the face of the team; the face of the franchise; the face of the sport, as in:

Derek Jeter is the face of the Yankees.

One problem with this idiom: heroes come and go, and new heroes take their place (particularly in competitive athletics). Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, and Paul Pierce have all had their turns as the face of the Boston Celtics. So, for the purposes of your question, you could adapt this phrase, and say:

Babe Ruth was the original face of the Yankees.
Red Auerbach was the original face of the Celtics.
Vince Lombardi was the original face of American football.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the original face of competitive bodybuilding.

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