I feel like lynn would be more a sentimental favorite for certain people. I'm not sure if she really belongs in the top 10.
I'll be honest, despite all of her titles, I can't watch a Sonia Henie video without rolling my eyes and then having my mind wander off thinking about her Nazi ties. On the other hand, I can enjoy watching Peggy Fleming or Janet Lynn because as simple as their routines are, they're extremely graceful. Their skating has aged very well through the years. Medals and accomplishments are one very valid way to measure a skater's historical greatness, but I think that their legacy of performances is just as important. Of course one could also argue that we're not giving enough credit to skaters whose strengths were in figures, but I think the point is that skaters like Janet paved the way for skating's current freeskate-centric system and made figures obsolete.
PS I don't mean to downplay Sonia Henie's achievements and influence on the sport. Objectively she's one of the top 5 if not #1. I just can't stand watching her skate.
This is so hard to do , it comes down to personal taste and knowledge of skating and the progression of the sport . I have been watching old videos and am very surprised at some of the skaters from the late 70's to early 80,s . I think Denise Biellman would have dominated the sport if she would have stayed amateur , she was so spectacular with her jumps and was still improving when she left . Also I really wasn't a huge Robin Cousins fan at the time but when I look back he was one of the best complete skater that had it all ! Some of these lists are just personal favourites . Last comment would be to all the Chan haters , he is so good it is not even worth arguing !!!
Perhaps there should be separate lists for greatest athletic skaters and greatest artistic skaters?
My subjective list, watching figure skating since the late 60's.
1.Gordeeva-Grinkov (ethernal beauty and unison)
4.Shen-Zhao (tricks AND emotions)
5.Berezhnaia-Sikharulidze (lines , beauty, femininity and masculinity at its best)
6.Rodnina-Zaitsev (set the new era, brought the sport further)
1.Torvil-Dean (a touch of God, talent and perfection)
2.Klimova-Ponomarenko (purest technique and quality)
3.Pakhomova-Gorshkov (passion, put the sport on the map)
4.Virtue-Moir (talent, creativity,emotion and technique)
5.Moiseeva-Minenkov (ahead of their time, innovators)
6.Anissina-Peizerat (lyra, excitement, a man in leading role)
9.Dushesnay-Duchesnay (innovation, fearlesness)
1.Yu-Na Kim (in any system either 6,0 or COP)
2.Kristie Yamaguchi (lightness, elegance, longevity)
3.Janet Lynn (set the standard of the present days, the reason to change the rules- short program-)
4.Denise Bielmann (far ahead her time, longevity, the strongest influence until the present days, fittness)
5.Michelle Kwan (lyra, beauty, quiet inner beauty shines)
6.Chen Lu (excitement, real reserved asian beauty and refine)
7.Midori Ito (virtuoso)
8.Yuka Sato (pure natural beauty and longevity)
9.Katarina Witt (longevity, physical beauty, competitiveness)
1.John Curry (the reason this sport was created)
2.Alexei Yagudin (emotion, passion, technique with a touch of art)
3.Toller Cranston (innivation, introduced the real choreography in men's skating)
4.Stephan Lambiel (breathtaking talent, art and beauty, perfect actor)
5.Plushenko (best jump technique but arrogance)
6.Brian Boitano (perfectionism)
7.Daisuke Takahashi (virtuoso, technique and personality)
8.Patrick Chan (the best blade ever used in sport)
No Sasha Cohen?
Henjie competed at a time the competition in womens skating was dire to put it mildly, when the technical demands were non existent, when politics was in another stratosphere to what modern skating fans can even imagine. Many of her wins were hugely controversial, her first World title over Herma Szabo which she only won since 3 of the 5 judges were Norwegian, as the 2 non Norwegian voted for Szabo. This upset Szabo so much she retired on the spot, feeling the deck was stacked against her, and created a new rule that only 1 judge per country was allowed. At the 1928 Worlds it was thought she was outskated by Maribel Vinson Owen but she was still given the win. Ceclia Colledge had clearly surpassed her in the mid 30s but the heavy politics of the day kept Henjie on top. Her father twice chased a judge who did not place her first down the street with a broom. That alone makes it hard to take much of her success that seriously, along with the time she competed in. I actually was far more generous to her than I wanted to be. I respected her record by putting her that high but from all I have heard and even footage I have seen Szabo and Colledge were the best skaters of the 20s and 30s and better than Henjie.
My criteria is a combination of factors. Achievements are obviously important, but those who contributed something to the sport in a big way that transcend their medal counts, those who make more of an overall impact, those who are just flat out considered higher caliber skaters by most observers, as well as longevity, consistency, the strength of the eras they skated in, can all be considered.
The only skaters I included who did not win a major title are Janet Lynn and Toller Cranston, yet both are revered as amongst the best of all time because of the excellence of their free skating, and most of all what they contributed to the sport artistically. In the event you are unaware of this until now, it wouldnt surprise me, as you often seem to be out of touch with reality.
What elevates figure skating above the mundane sports is that it is magic.
Here is a magic trick. I am sad. I click on this. Now I am happy. A miracle. God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.
Janet Lynn was like that, too.
Only someone uninformed of the history of womens skating would dispute Lynn is atleast a top 5 skater of all time. What she had she was magical and unlike any other skater in history. She almost single handedly was behind the eventual removal of compulsory figures too, for better or worse.
And I never said Janet Lynn and Toller Cranston weren't amongst the best of all time... but I consider personal achievement to be considered a huge part of being the best of all time. Although Cranston and Lynn contributed greatly in terms of artistry, and had lovely spins, excellent skating skills and ease across the ice, however they never reached the top of the podium in major events, attributed not only to poor figures but also SP/FS segment errors that cost them. They're still arguably the two best skaters to never win a World or Olympic title, but neither belongs in the top 3 because of that. I'd certainly have Kim/Ito/Witt/Kwan ahead of Lynn in my list... but Lynn would certainly be in the top 10 with her setting a higher standard in women's skating. (Also, it's inaccurate to suggest she was singlehandedly behind the removal of compulsory figures. She paved the way for a more free skate-centric competition, and was arguably almost single-handedly behind the addition of the short program, to mitigate the value of compulsory figures -- but compulsory figures would be around more than 15 years after she competed. If anyone, it was Ito who nailed the coffin in compulsory figures.)
Ladies (based on free skating; not figures):
Yu Na Kim
Men (these are all very close--it almost seems unfair to rank):
ETA: OMG-I forgot my favorite men's skater--Daisuke Takahashi! I really want to put him higher but need to wait until his career is over.