The Olympics have been held for generations. It has been used as an event to celebrate individual excellence, and show who the most talented athletes in each country are. As a result, several of those excellent athletes have become celebrities in their own right. And now it is time to celebrate those particularly gifted individuals.
It’s unlikely that Shawn Johnson’s parents expected her to become an Olympic-level athlete when they signed her up for gymnastics at three years old. She competed in the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, winning the gold medal for the Balance Beam, and three silvers for the women’s gymnastics team. Unfortunately, she injured her knee during a skiing accident in 2010, prompting her to retire from the Olympics.
Carl Lewis was a dominant and frighteningly consistent athlete in his heyday. Competing in the 100m, 200m, 400 x 100m relay and the long jump, he set a number of world records that lasted nearly 20 years. His performance earned him 9 Olympic gold medals, a silver, and ten world titles. He was even voted the “World Athlete of the Century”. No longer a competing athlete, Lewis now owns the marketing and branding company C.L.E.G.
Michael Phelps is regarded as the most successful Olympian in history. He’s certainly the most decorated, having won 28 medals, with 23 of them being gold. He first retired from swimming after the London Olympics in 2012, but decided to come back after a challenge from a rival. He won his last five gold medals and a silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016. He’s widely regarded as the best swimmer in history.
Allyson Felix has been competing in the Olympics since 2008. As a runner, she specializes in the 100m, 200m, and 400m categories. No woman, other than Felix, has ever won six gold medals in her sport, still being unsurpassed at the age of 30. She’s an advocate for an all-natural body enhancement approach and speaks about the necessity of regular, random drug testing.
Natalie Coughlin has a grand total of 60 medals from her participation in the Olympics. She made history as the first woman to complete the 100m backstroke in less than a minute. Six years later, she won six gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics, the first American, female athlete to so during a single Olympiad. Her success has also allowed her to become a brand ambassador, as well as a business investor in a food corporation.
Kerri Walsh Jennings
Before becoming an Olympiad, Kerri Walsh Jennings was already considered one of the best all-around players in collegiate volleyball. And when she transitioned to beach volley, her skills allowed her to become a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Alongside her partner, Misty-May Treanor, the duo are considered the greatest beach volleyball team in history. Jennings not only continues to compete, but also makes appearances in film in television. She currently holds a record for women’s career earnings at $2,561,635.
Nancy Kerrigan is a former figure skater who won a bronze and silver medal at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, respectively. However, Kerrigan’s famously related to her rival, Tonya Harding. Harding’s ex-husband orchestrated an attack against Kerrigan wherein a man hit her in the knee with a baton. Fortunately, she was able to recover in time to participate in the 1994 Olympics, but she missed her chance to win the skating competition in 1992. She’s still doing well for herself, appearing as a guest on TV shows and appearing in season 25 of Dancing with the Stars.
Nadia Comăneci is a former Romanian gymnast and was the first gymnast to ever be awarded a perfect score in the Olympics. Her skill has been credited as the reason gymnastics became a more popular sport internationally. She was a five-time Olympic gold medalist and a 4-time world champion. Now, Comăneci lives in the US and is married to Bart Conner. They own Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, multiple sports shops, and a production company.
Some refer to Aly Raisman as a legacy of the Magnificent Seven, having been inspired to more seriously take on gymnastics from watching them compete. Her hard work allowed her to become the captain of the “Fierce Five” and the “Final Five” US gymnastics teams in 2012 and 2016. At the London Olympics, she won two gold medals and bronze. Outside of the Olympics, she’s appeared a music video with Maroon 5 and got fourth place in the 16th season of Dancing with the Stars.
Sports Illustrated called Jacqueline Kersee “The Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time” due to her achievements in track and field. She specializes in the heptathlon and the long jump, with her world record still standing in regard to the former. She earned three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in four Olympic games. Most impressively, she accomplished all she did while suffering from severe asthma. Now she’s an active philanthropist and a founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.
Shannon Lee Miller
Shannon Lee Miller had been doing gymnastics since she was five, and would travel to Moscow to increase her experience. She was unofficially the leader of the Magnificent Seven, brining home the coveted, gold medal to the US. With 16 medals, seven of which were gold, she was the most decorated gymnast to come from the US before Simon Biles surpassed her record.
Dara Torres was the first swimmer to represent the US in five Olympics. She earned herself twelve medals and was the oldest member of the US team at 41. Due to knee problems, she was forced to retire, otherwise she likely would have been on the team in 2012. She started a career in modeling and has also worked for a few different networks as a reporter.
At age 16, Cathy Freeman became the first Australian Indigenous person to win a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games. She competed in various events, including the 100m, 200m, and long jump, but her forte was the 400m. She won a gold and a silver at the 2000 and 1996 Olympics, respectively. Her 400m record of 48.63 seconds makes her the sixth fastest female of all-time. She decided to retire in 2003 to spend more time with her family, as well as founding the Cathy Freeman Foundation in 2007.
Nastia Liukin was born into gymnastics. The Russian-American athlete was born in Moscow, but moved to America when she was only two. Eventually, she tied with Shannon Mill for third place with the most world championship medals for US gymnasts. While she was the all-around champion in 2008, she failed to make the cut for the team in 2010.
Jan Zelzny, while retired, is considered the best javelin thrower of modern times. The Czech athlete won gold medals in the Olympics held between 1992-2000, and still holds the world record for throwing 98.48 meters in 1996. Not to mention, he also holds the second, third, and fourth best performances.
Dorothy Hamill’s father supported her figure skating ambition, having ended up spending around $20,000 annually for concomitant expenses. It all seemed to pay off when she won the Olympic gold in 1976. In the same year, she also became a world champion. Despite her success, she retired the same year, reportedly suffering from chronic depression.
Greg Louganis is considered the greatest American diver in history, and potentially the greatest diver ever. It only makes sense after he swept the diving events two Olympics in a row. Currently, he’s an LGBTQ+ activist and mentors the US diving team.
After being forced to relocate to the Alps during World War II, Jean-Claude Kelly’s family lived a simply life with a ski shop. Kelly was forced to drop out of school to help his father run the shop, and ended up picking up skiing rather quickly. In the 1968 Winter Olympics he won three gold medals. Now retired, he’s also famous for his close ties with Vladimir Putin.
Mia Hamm’s achievements in soccer has allowed her to be considered one of the most important athletes in the last 15 years. Although, she was born with a club foot and wore corrective shoes as a toddler. She ended up becoming a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Now she is an author, co-owner of Los Angeles FC, and a world ambassador for FC Barcelona.
Everyone knows who Usain Bolt is. The nine-time Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica that specializes in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay that he has consistently dominated. In the Beijing Olympics, he set two world records in the 100 and 200m events. He’s considered the greatest sprinter of all time, and aptly nicknamed the Lightning Bolt. Retired from sprinting, he now plays football for the Central Coast Mariners in Australia.
Kerri Strug was the key to the US winning it first gold medal for the women’s gymnastics team. She sacrificed her personal goals for the team in 1996, epitomizing what it means to be an ideal Olympian. She gave up on the opportunity to compete in the individual all-around category, suffering an ankle injury while performing. Following her sports career, she worked as a teacher, staff assistant in the White House, and a presidential appointee in the office of the Department of Justice.
At the height of the Cold War, the US and USSR didn’t just compete for supremacy as superpowers, but in athletic competition as well. And this is where Mike Eruzione came in. Captain of the 1980 Winter Olympics team, the US underdogs defeated the Soviet team, which were considered unbeatable. The game was remembered as the “Miracle on Ice”, where Eruzione managed to score the winning goal.
We already mentioned Nancy Kerrigan earlier, so now it’s time to focus on the one deemed responsible for her injury. Tonya Harding spent most of her life to become a professional figure skater. She is highly skilled, being only the second woman in history to perform the triple axel. Not to mention she has five gold medals. But, of course, she was banned from competing after he ex-husband hired someone to assault Kerrigan. And she also pled guilty to hindering the case of the prosecution. Since then, she’s broken into boxing.
Speaking of boxing, there’s George Foreman. The way he used to pound a punching bag made people think he could cut down a tree with his bare hands. “Big George” won the gold in 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico City. Now he’s a successful entrepreneur and spokesperson for the George Foreman Grill.
Chad Le Clos
Chad de Clos is a South African swimming champions. Not only has he won titles in the Olympics, but the World Championships and Commonwealth Games as well. Unfortunately, his record is sometimes undermined by his rivalry with Michael Phelps. Their rivalry is actually the reason Phelps competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Although, they both lost to Tamas Kenderesi from Hungary. Still an active competitor, Clos is the most decorated Olympian from South Africa.