Eight-time Olympic canoe gold medallist Birgit Fischer was second and tennis champion Steffi Graf third in the poll, carried out some four years after most of the rest of the world decided their favourites.
Schumacher, 35, has won the world championship seven times while Fischer, 42, won her eight gold medals for both East German and reunited Germany in Olympics over 24 years dating back to Moscow in 1980.
Graf, 35, won 22 grand slam titles and was ranked number one in the world for a record 186 consecutive weeks. She held the top ranking for a total of 377 weeks -- another record.
"I never would have expected an honour like this," said Schumacher, who won his seventh title this year. "It's a total surprise."
More than 100,000 viewers voted in the contest, which was broadcast on ZDF television. Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup-winning captain and coach for West Germany, was fourth, ahead of three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker in fifth.
"As someone who played a team sport, I feel a bit uncomfortable being ranked as an individual so high," Beckenbauer said.
Rounding out the top 10 were: boxer Max Schmeling in sixth, one-time Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich seventh, swimmer Franziska van Almsick eighth, Germany striker Gerd Mueller ninth and Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn 10th.
Other notables atop the list included Germany midfielder Michael Ballack 11th, basketball's Dirk Nowitzki 12th, former Germany striker and coach Rudi Voeller 13th, and his former team mate and successor as coach Juergen Klinsmann 16th.