By now everyone knows the story about what happened with Ryan Lochte and his buddies reporting the fake robbery at the Olympic Games that recently ended. It thrust him right into the mainstream media spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. Over the years there have been many scandals during Olympic Games and every time some of the best athletes in the world get together, media around the world finds a new darling to dote on. But it doesn’t always take a scandal to put someone into the spotlight. It could be that they just put on one of the best performances of all time. Like the time that one athlete set a world record every time he performed.
Some were so good during the height of their careers that they had moves named after them. Some also let the pressure of competition lead them into making some really stupid decisions. No matter how they got there, the world fell in love with these former Olympians based on how they looked. Let’s face it; if they were ugly nobody would have cared about them for more than a day or two. That’s just how the media works.
So let’s take a look back at some of the most famous athletes from past Olympic Games that the world fell in love with and what they look like now.
20. Nadia Comaneci (Then)
Nadia Comaneci set the world on fire at the ripe old age of just 14 years old. The gymnast from Romania became the first ever Olympian to receive a perfect score of 10.0 in gymnastics. That was during the 1976 Summer Olympics that took place in Montreal. She didn’t stop there as she accomplished the historic feat an amazing six more times during those Olympics, on her way to three gold medals.
During the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, she won two more gold medals and she is credited with being the reason that gymnastics became popular around the world. To back that up, the Laureus World Sports Academy named her as one of their Athletes of the 20th Century in 2000.
During those 1976 games, she earned perfect scores in not just one event, but in two different ones. Sports Illustrated said it best when they wrote “At Montreal (Comaneci) received four of her seven 10s on the uneven bars. The apparatus demands such a spectacular burst of energy in such a short time—only 23 seconds—that it attracts the most fanfare. But it is on the beam that her work seems more representative of her unbelievable skill. She scored three of her seven 10s on the beam. Her hands speak there as much as her body. Her pace magnifies her balance. Her command and distance hush the crowd.”
19. Nadia Comaneci (Now)
Comaneci, now 54 years old, continues to be known as one of the most popular gymnasts of all time. Romania has made sure that nobody forgets about her as she is currently the honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, the Sports Ambassador of Romania, honorary President of the Romanian Olympic Committee and she is also a member of the International Gymnastics Federation Foundation.
She and her husband, Bart Connor, also continue to be active in the sport by owning the Bart Connor Gymnastics Academy, several sports equipment stores and The Perfect 10 Production Company. The couple also does a lot of work on television offering commentary for gymnastic events. They have appeared on broadcasts for the 2005 World Championships and again during the 2008 Olympics that took place in Beijing.
Comaneci has never forgotten where she came from and she strongly believes in being a positive role model in the community, both in the United States and in Romania. She is very active with many organizations and charities. She even paid for a clinic to be built in Romania out of her own pocket. The Nadia Comaneci Children’s Clinic provides low cost or totally free medical help to the children of Romania. Good for her!
18. Dorothy Hamill (Then)
Dorothy Hamill also took the world by storm in 1976 when she was both an Olympic Champion and World Champion in women’s singles figure skating competition.
In 1974, at the age of 17, she became the United States Champion and she held that title from ‘74 until 1976. She made her Olympic debut in 1976 during the winter games in Innsbruck, Austria where she made the world take notice of her talent. She finished second in the figures but then finished first in the long and short programs to take home the gold medal. She was the last single’s competition skater to win a gold medal without a triple jump in her performance.
America, as well as the world, became infatuated with Hamill after that Olympic performance. Shortly afterward women all over the world were sporting her bobbed hairstyle and her oversized framed glasses also became a fad all over. The world simply could not get enough of her and the press nicknamed her “America’s Sweetheart.”
Hamill is credited with inventing the “Hamill camel” figure skating move. That’s a camel spin that transforms into a sit spin. It’s amazing to watch someone do it and she was obviously the best at it. The athleticism that it takes to pull off that move is incredible. If you don’t believe me give it a try sometime, just don’t send me your hospital bills.
17. Dorothy Hamill (Now)
Hamill is 60 years old now and despite suffering from health issues she has continued to be a part of skating. Most of her adult life she has suffered from chronic depression and she takes medication and goes to therapy to keep it in check. She announced in 2008 that she was being treated for breast cancer and she became one of the many people that women look to for inspiration when suffering the disease.
She has been divorced twice (Dean Paul Martin, 1982-1984 and Ken Forsythe, 1985-1995) and is currently in her third marriage (John MacColl, 2009). Hamill has written a pair of autobiographies, On and Off the Ice and in 2007 she released A Skating Life: My Story.
In 2010, Rachael Flatt won a gold medal and she credits Hamill with being a mentor. That was not the only success for Flatt, who won the United States Championships silver medal three different times.
Hamill was inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1991 and then later into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1996 she was voted the winner of the Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award. She was further honored in her hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut by having the local skating rink named The Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
16. Peggy Fleming (Then)
Peggy Fleming is another figure skater that took the world by storm during an Olympic performance. Her rise to stardom came in 1968 in Grenoble, France. She was the women’s singles champion there and she also won three World Championships from 1966-1968.
She started skating at the young age of just nine years old and she almost called it quits at the age of twelve. That was when her coach, William Kipp, was killed in a plane crash along with the entire United States figure skating team while traveling to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships. Eventually, she hooked up with Carlo Fassi and a star was born.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports named her their Athlete of the Year in 1967.
Fleming had a style that had never been seen before in the sport and it led to five United States Championships, three Word Championships, and that gold medal in the 1968 games. She carried the country on her shoulders during the games in France as hers was the only gold medal won by the entire U.S. Olympic team. It was the start of turning things around for American figure skating, which was still reeling from that tragic plane crash in 1961.
15. Peggy Fleming (Now)
Peggy Fleming went into broadcasting when she finished with her professional skating career. She has been covering skating events for long over twenty years. The 68-year old has been part of several Winter Olympic Games coverage teams as well.
She appeared in the 2007 movie Blades of Glory as a judge and she also does her share of artwork. Her pieces have been on display at the Art of the Olympians, who produced a thirty-minute documentary in 2010.
Fleming was injured and spent some time in the hospital after a car accident during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. She and another former Olympian, Vonette Flowers, were riding in Vice President Joe Biden’s motorcade at the time of the crash.
Back in 2011, she was the spokesperson for an odd campaign by Robitussin. The company did a “Last Names Giveaway” and Fleming was chosen because her last name sounds similar to one of the symptoms that the medicine treats (phlegm).
At the height of her career, Fleming was named by the Associated Press as the third most popular athlete in America. The 1993 study ranked her behind two other U.S. Olympians, Mary Lou Retton and Dorothy Hamill.
14. Kurt Thomas (Then)
Former famous Olympians that took the world by storm aren’t restricted to just women. Kurt Thomas reached the same heights during the 1976 Summer Olympics. Thomas was a star at Indiana State University before the world took notice of him.
He was a NCAA champion five different times and all of the amateur competitors around the country knew who he was before he moved up to the world stage. He won championships in 1977 on the parallel bars and in the all-around. Then in 1979 he won championships in parallel bars and all-around again, and added another on the horizontal bar. But this wasn’t a surprise anymore after he made a name for himself in those 1976 games. He led his squad at ISU to the National Championship in 1977.
In college, Thomas was an All-American recipient an amazing thirteen times and in 1979 he won the Nissen Award which is the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in football. In 1999 he was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2010 he was enshrined into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame.
13. Kurt Thomas (Now)
The 60-year-old Kurt Thomas had two gymnastics moves named after him. They are the “Thomas Flair” which he performed on the pommel horse and the “Thomas Salto” which he performed to perfection during his floor exercise. The “Salto” was his signature move and even by today’s standards the move is considered a risky one because of the difficulty level that accompanies pulling it off, as well as the level of danger that it involves. It consists of a tucked one and a half backwards salto with a one and a half twist that transitioned right into a roll out. It looks easy if you watch videos of it but I dare you to give it a try!
He has been inducted into a couple of halls of fame including his 2003 induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Thomas lives in Frisco, Texas with his wife Rebecca and together they own and operate the Kurt Thomas Gymnastics Training Center. Since 2003 they have hosted an annual USAG sanctioned event called the Kurt Thomas International Invitational Gymnastics Meet.
Thomas has done a lot of work for ESPN and ABC Sports as a commentator. In 1985 he starred in a movie that was called Gymkata but the film was a major flop at the box office. Much to the dismay of directors, the film has gathered a huge cult following over the years based on its unintentional comedy.
12. Kristi Yamaguchi (Then)
Kristi Yamaguchi has found success in pretty much everything that she has taken part in. The American figure skater was the 1992 United States Champion, the World Champion in 1991 and 1992 and she was also an Olympic Champion is 1992. Oh, and she won the Season six Dancing with the Stars championship as well in 2008. While that last one might not have as much prestige attached to it as her other titles, it just goes to show you the level of talent this beautiful woman has.
She didn’t do too badly when she took part in pairs skating events either. With her partner Rudy Galindo she was the 1988 World Junior Champion and twice was a National Champion (1989 and 1990).
As a result of all of her success, Yamaguchi was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2005.
When she won the 1991 World Championship she was part of a team that also had Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding on it. The team was the only national women’s team ever to have its members finish first, second and third at a world championship.
Yamaguchi won the gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France despite a less than perfect performance. She made a couple of mistakes during her free program performance but it was still good enough to capture the gold medal.
11. Kristi Yamaguchi (Now)
Yamaguchi is now 45 years old and she is married to former NHL star Bret Hedican. The couple met at the 1992 Winter Olympics when he played hockey for Team USA. They got married in 2000 and the couple has two daughters.
Not only can she skate and dance but she can also write as well. In 2011 she partnered up with illustrator Tim Bowers to write a children’s book that was called Dream Big, Little Pig. The book reached #2 on the New York Times best seller list and it also won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. Currently, you will find her appearing on your television as a spokesperson for Digestive Advantage.
Yamaguchi has not forgotten about her skating background that propelled her to stardom. In 2006 she hosted a show on WE TV that was called Skating’s Next Star and during the 2006 Winter Olympics, she was a commentator for the figure skating events for KNTV NBC 11 out of San Jose.
She continued her Olympic coverage in 2010 when she was a daily skating analyst for NBC’s Universal Sports Network’s coverage of the Olympics. She also doubled up her work for those games as a special correspondent on the Today Show.
10. Mark Spitz (Then)
Before Michael Phelps came along, Mark Spitz was the greatest Olympic swimmer in American history. During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Spitz won an amazing seven gold medals. Not only that, but every single gold medal that he won was done in world record time. The number of gold medals stood as the record until Phelps broke that number with eight gold medals in 2008 at Beijing.
When you combine the 1968 and 1972 games, Spitz won a total of eleven medals. Nine of those were gold to go along with one silver and a bronze. Overall during the four year period, he also added five Pan American Games gold medals, 31 AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) titles and he earned eight NCAA championships. But wait there’s more. He also set 33 world records. As you can imagine, Swimming World Magazine named Spitz as the World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and again in 1972. If there was a Swimmer of the Universe Award he probably would have won that as well. He was just the third athlete to earn a total of nine medals in the Olympic Games.
His first international competition came at the age of 15 and he was named the Most Outstanding Athlete at those 1965 Maccabiah Games after winning four gold medals. It was just a sign of what was to come.
9. Mark Spitz (Now)
Spitz is now 66 years old and after retiring from competitive swimming at the age of just 22, he went on to a great career in movies and on television. Most recently he was in a commercial for a testosterone supplement called Ageless Male, in 2012.
He has appeared in a Bob Hope special, been on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and Emergency! among countless other shows.
He was hired by ABC Sports in 1976 and he took part in countless broadcasts with the company, including being part of the coverage teams for the 1976 Summer Olympics that took place in Montreal and the 1984 Summer Olympics that took place in Los Angeles. He also did some work on the show Challenge of a Lifetime.
After most of his broadcasting work was done he kept a low profile and started a real estate company in Beverly Hills, California.
ESPN Sports Century 50 Greatest Athletes named Spitz at #33 on their list in 1999. He was the only swimmer to be named to the list. But the accolades for his accomplishments in the pool didn’t end there. In 1977 he was named into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1979), the United States Olympic Hall of Fame (1983), San Jose Sports Hall of Fame (2007), National Jewish Museum Sports Hall of Fame (2007), the Long Beach City College Hall of Fame (2007) and the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame. I think that pretty much covers them all. To say he is an icon in the world of swimming is a major understatement.
8. Nancy Kerrigan (Then)
Nancy Kerrigan is known as much for her off the ice headlines as she is for what she accomplished on the ice as a figure skater. She won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics, a silver medal in the 1994 Olympics, a U.S. National Championship in 1994 and was also a two-time medal winner in the World Championships. But her name will be forever linked with Tonya Harding’s more than any medal that she won.
She had a long time rivalry both on the ice and off with Harding and when it all came to a head it made world news and suddenly the world had a reason to watch women’s figure skating.
In 1991 Kerrigan was part of the historic United States team that took all three medals at the World Figure Skating Championships. She took home the bronze medal while Kristi Yamaguchi brought home the gold and Harding won the silver medal. It was the first time ever that a single country swept all three medals at the World Championships.
7. Nancy Kerrigan (Now)
Nancy Kerrigan is now 46 years old and while some people remember that she was a decent figure skater, most affiliate her name with the 1994 incident with Tonya Harding. In January of that year, while finishing up a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that were taking place in Detroit, Michigan, Kerrigan was attacked and her right knee was assaulted with a police baton, by Shane Stant.
The attack became known as “The Whack Heard Round the World” and it was planned out by Harding’s then-husband Jeff Gillooly along with Shawn Eckardt. The event shocked the world as it seemed more like a bad storyline from a professional wrestling organization than something associated with United States Figure Skating.
The attack was caught on camera and the entire world saw Kerrigan lying on the ground holding her knee and crying out “Why, why, why?” Obviously, the injury forced her to have to withdraw from that competition but she was later given a spot on the Olympic team anyway instead of Michelle Kwan.
The injuries appeared to be much less severe than she portrayed as she was soon back on the ice getting ready for the Olympic Games. But the worldwide recognition paid off for her as before the games had even begun she had already signed several endorsement contracts for around $9.5 million. Harding didn’t have the same amount of luck and you’ll read more on her shortly.
6. Greg Louganis (Then)
Greg Louganis reached heights that a diver had never seen during the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. He took home the gold medal in both the springboard and platform diving events during both competitions. He became the first diver in Olympic history to accomplish that feat in two consecutive Olympic Games.
It could have been three consecutive games as he was favored to win the gold during the 1980 Summer Olympics that were held in Moscow. But the United States’ boycott of the games robbed Louganis of that opportunity. In 1982 he showed the world what could have been possible in Moscow when he won a pair of titles at the World Championships.During that event, he became the first diver to ever receive a perfect 10 score from all seven judges.
When he took home the golds in 1984 in Los Angeles and again in 1988 in Seoul the world knew exactly what had been taken away from him with the boycott.
His 1988 gold medal is particularly impressive when you realize that he suffered a concussion during the preliminary rounds of those games. His head slammed into the springboard during a dive but he continued on and easily won the gold medal. Today’s standards would probably dictate that he withdraw from the competition so you probably won’t see another amazing accomplishment like that again.
5. Greg Louganis (Now)
That concussion suffered by the now 56-year-old Louganis, became a very popular topic of discussion later on as he announced that he was HIV-positive in 1995. He was diagnosed six months before those Olympic Games in 1988 and there was a lot of debate as to why he didn’t announce it before 1995 and why he didn’t announce it during those Olympic Games.
When his head slammed against that springboard it was cut and his blood went into the water of the pool. It was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the thousands of gallons of water diluted the blood and that chlorine kills HIV. This was said by John Ward who was chief of HIV-AIDS surveillance at the time. Anthony Fauci also added that the only way a diver would have been at risk was if they had an open wound at the time. “If the virus just touches the skin, it is unheard of for it to cause infection: the skin has no receptors to bind HIV”.
Even though it was said to not have been a threat Louganis was heavily criticized for not making others aware of his diagnosis prior to taking part in the competition. Even to this day with all of the advances and information society now knows, whenever that event is brought up he is still criticized for his decision. Probably rightfully so. Whether or not it was a threat to other divers, they had the right to know and who’s to say that someone didn’t have an open cut under their swimwear? You just never know so caution should have been used.
4. Tonya Harding (Then)
We have already talked about Nancy Kerrigan, a fellow United States figure skater of Tonya Harding’s from the 90’s. Harding and Kerrigan will be forever linked due to the attack on Kerrigan in January of 1994.
Prior to that Harding had earned her way to a pair of Skate America Championships, a U.S. Figure Skating championship and a second place finish in the World Championships in 1991. But the attack on Kerrigan effectively ended Harding’s career following the Olympic Games in Lillehammer. She was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Association and ended up pleading guilty to hindering prosecution for her role in the clubbing on Kerrigan.
Harding’s then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, along with her personal bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, hired Shane Stant to attack Kerrigan and break her right leg so she wouldn’t be able to compete in the Olympics. The attack was supposed to happen in Massachusetts but Stant couldn’t find her, so he followed her to Detroit where the attack took place.
Kerrigan’s injuries weren’t as bad as originally thought as she only suffered a bruise on her leg. She ended up taking part in the Olympics and won the silver medal while Harding finished in eighth place.
3. Tonya Harding (Now)
Just because Tonya Harding was banned for life from skating didn’t mean that she vanished from the public eye. The 45-year-old has done countless things since then to keep her name either in the news or on television.
She and then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, sold a sex tape of their wedding night to Penthouse Magazine for $200,000. Earlier in that same year of 1994, she took part on an AAA professional wrestling card. She was the manager of the Los Gringos Locos stable that included Brian Cox, Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero.
Harding also tried her hand in the music business when she put together a band in 1995 that was called The Golden Blades. They only played one time in public, in Portland, Oregon, and they were booed off of the stage.
In 1996 she got a role in the movie Breakaway where she played the part of the girlfriend of a criminal. There are rumors that she didn’t even have to audition for the part due to her previous role in “The Kerrigan Clubbing”.
Harding even tried professional boxing and she put together a pro record of 4-3 before calling it quits. But most of her fights had some kind of controversy surrounding them.
For many years she was on the television show TruTV’s The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest… which is actually a pretty good show. She and several other B-list celebrities offer funny commentary on funny and stupid videos. The show is good but Harding wasn’t, even though she was on it for nearly five years. A lot of her comments were just as dumb as the videos themselves and when Tru Tv took over the show from The Smoking Gun in 2013, Harding was dropped from the cast.
2. Bruce Jenner (Then)
In 1972 Bruce Jenner’s dream of having Olympic success seemed like exactly that, a dream. During the Olympic trials for the decathlon in Eugene, Oregon, he was in fifth place and he needed to make up a huge gap of time to even have a shot at making the team. He finally kicked it into gear on the very last lap and finished 22 seconds ahead of everyone else, clinching himself a spot on the squad.
That year at the Olympics in Munich he finished in tenth place but he found the inspiration that he was looking for to become a champion. After he saw the winning performance of Russian Mykola Avilov, Jenner said that he began a new training routine that very night. “For the first time, I knew what I wanted out of life and that was it, and this guy has it. I literally started training that night at midnight, running through the streets of Munich, Germany, training for the Games. I trained that day on through the 1976 Games, 6–8 hours a day, every day, 365 days a year.”
It paid off with a very solid gold medal winning performance at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. It was at that point he that went from training during the day and selling insurance at night to an Olympic Champion that was known around the world. It also helped that he was on the cover of Wheaties cereal boxes in America for what seemed like forever.
1. Bruce Jenner (Now Caitlyn)
Bruce Jenner is now 66 years old and currently goes by the name of Caitlyn. This might be shocking if the entire world wasn’t already aware of it because of social media. But in a way, it still is a bit shocking if you put up one of those old Wheaties boxes next to a current photo.
After years of rumors Jenner finally officially came out in 2015 as a trans woman. It was also made official that for many years he had cross dressed and took hormone replacement therapy. This was stopped when his relationship with Kris Kardashian was getting serious. Jenner said that permission was given by Kardashian to explore his female side if it was needed, but not to do it at home or when she was around. The marriage was officially ended in 2015.
Jenner has had some cosmetic surgery but has not yet had sex reassignment surgery. It hasn’t been ruled out but it also hasn’t been said that it will definitely be done.
In early 2015 Jenner was involved in a multiple car collision that killed actress Kim Howe. Jenner’s SUV rammed into Howe’s vehicle which then slammed into another vehicle that was being driven by Hollywood agent Jessica Steindorff. The official details of the accident have never been released but no charges were ever brought against Jenner. However, he has faced three lawsuits stemming from the crash and to this point two of them have been settled. Rumors that say that Jenner was putting on lipstick at the time of the crash have not been confirmed.