3

選ぶ means 'to choose' and 手 means 'hand' or by extension 'ability'. I don't see how this can yield 'athlete'. Is 選 ateji?

8

A dictionary definition of 選手 is

スポーツで選{えら}ばれて競技{きょうぎ}に出場{しゅつじょう}する人

A person chosen to appear in a sports competition

So, 選 expresses 選ばれる, and 手 expresses the person in question.

You noted that 手 means "hand," and by extension "ability," but it's also, by even further extension, the person who possesses that ability.

You can see this in words like 運転手{うんてんしゅ} (driver) and 歌手{かしゅ} (singer) as well.

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