It depends on context. It can refer to a person who practices athletics but a person who plays a team sport might also be referred to as athletic or as an athlete.Does the word athlete refers to other sports than athletics?
The first two aren't natural. The third works.Can I say "he was a top-level athlete in soccer" ? or is it better "a top-level sportsman in soccer" or "top-level soccer player" ?
My criteria is more specific: If it generally requires an athletic supporter, it is a sport; if not, it is not a sport.Although what constitutes an athlete is a gray area in many ways, it's safe to say that players in any team sport that uses a ball or a puck would be considered athletes.
Dancing makes athletic demands on the body but I would not call the dancers "athletes". I dated a ballerina once and she could do 20 pull-ups and 50 push ups so she was in top physical shape. But she was not an athlete; she was a dancer.Nice picture, Packard. I too certainly wouldn't call darts players and snooker players athletes. They never seem to run very far or break into a sweat. Darts players have to drink a lot of beer and snooker players have to stay up all night, at least in the finals of important competitions. Personally, I'd confine athlete to athletics. But perhaps that's just me. Athletic is more flexible. I'd speak of an athletic ballet dancer. It depends on how much physical strain's involved.