It’s a tough job being a professional athlete. The rewards are great, but the sacrifice and dedication you need to have for your craft consumes you and takes precedence over pretty much everything else. That’s what’s required to make the grade as an Olympian. If you’re a pro playing in soccer leagues around the world, perhaps in the NBA, NFL or MLB, when your season comes around, you’ve got to be ready and gear up for a showdown on a regular basis. Week in, week out, you have an opportunity to execute your craft. If it doesn’t happen for you one week, you have an opportunity to make amends the next. It doesn’t quite work like that if you’re an Olympic athlete. Firstly, being an Olympian and getting a medal at the games is regarded as being the pinnacle of all sporting success. Qualifying in itself is tough, then getting through the heats of various events and holding your nerve to grab one of those top three spots – Olympians have it seriously tough. Then, at the back of their minds, there’s that voice that wonders what will happen if they mess up.
If you do mess up, all that hard work’s gone down the drain, and they have to wait another four years to try and put it right. When such athletes retire, many find it tough to get back to a so-called normal way of life. It’s pretty interesting to learn how former athletes turned out and how they made the transition. America has had some amazing Olympic athletes over the years. At every Olympics, team USA always consists of some of the worlds’ best Olympians. Today, now that the sporting world is gripped by Winter Olympic fever, let’s reminisce and think back to some of team USA’s great Olympians of old. These are 20 American ex-Olympians, what they achieved, and what they’ve done since gracing the Olympic stage.
20 Kaitlin Sandeno: Swimmer Turned Sports Broadcaster
Set your eyes on Kaitlin Sandeno and you certainly wouldn’t think that she’s a retired athlete. She’s 34, but still looks like she could still compete with the best of them in the pool. But that’s what tends to happen with swimmers. Their training is gruelling, workouts are brutal, calorie consumptions are astronomical – it’s a lot of punishment for the body. That’s why most get in and then get out early in order to pursue other ventures. Kaitlin had a stellar career in the pool. She was a world champion and is the proud recipient of an Olympic gold medal. She called it quits a decade ago, when she was only 24, and has since been involved in various different projects. She aspired to get into broadcasting, and has begun putting things in place to make it happen. Kaitlin is also still involved in swimming. She’s started a venture called Swim Tank, is an assistant swim coach, and often reports on swimming races for NBC.
19 Michael Johnson: Superstar Sprinter Now Heavily Involved In TV
When a lot of Olympians retire, they still want to be involved in their sport in some capacity, and have a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise that they’re eager to share. They therefore try to get gigs on TV, in the media, reporting on their event or sport of choice. Athletes have done so with varying success. But Michael Johnson has made the transition from track to the media box splendidly. His name’s synonymous with the Olympics, especially in the UK where he’s become a favorite pundit on everything athletics. For those of you not in the know, Michael Johnson won four Olympic gold medals and held numerous records during his time as an athlete. He’s regarded to be one of the greatest sprinters of all time due to his explosiveness and consistency on the track. Johnson is now a familiar face in the media. He’s frequently seen on TV, has done documentaries and shows about his craft, and has taken part in reality shows – he’s the media’s main man when it comes to track and field.
18 Tonya Harding: Disgraced Former Athlete Trying To Get Her Life Back On Track
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent months, in all likelihood you’ve heard of the name Tonya Harding. What she did at the 1994 Olympics will live long in the memory. It might have been before your time, but chances are you’ve heard about it, especially in recent months with the movie, I, Tonya being released, with Margot Robbie playing the lead skater. She was basically implicated in orchestrating an attack on one of her fellow Olympians. It ended up being one of the biggest scandals in sporting history. She left the sport a disgraced athlete, tried her hand as a pro boxer, did a few media appearances, then tried to look for other work that would enable her to lead a quieter life. Tonya worked as a sales clerk, did welding, and is currently working as a painter and deck builder. What a massive change from being a world-class figure skater.
17 Carl Lewis: What A Life This Guy Has Led
While Michael Johnson is regarded to be one of the greatest sprinters of all time, Carl Lewis is right up there too. We are not going to list his achievements on the track because we’ll be here for days. But not only was he a dominant sprinter, he also had another discipline which he excelled at – long jumping. Due to everything he achieved, many rate him as being the world's best athlete and sportsman of the century. It’d be hard to disagree. Since retiring, Carl Lewis hasn’t just sat back and revelled in the glory of everything he has achieved. He’s certainly kept himself busy. Carl has made a number of movie and TV appearances over the years. He’s also done documentaries and has established himself as a more than decent actor. Carl also embarked on a career in politics and bid for the New Jersey State Senate, but things didn’t quite work out on that front.
16 Heather Mitts: A Soccer Star Who’s Giving Back
The USA soccer team is one of the most popular in the world when it comes to the women’s game. That’s not only because it’s a world-class team, but it’s a team filled with beautiful athletes. Pretty much every other player on that team has done some type of modelling, such as Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Hope Solo, to name a few. You can add Heather Mitts to that list too. She played at right back and had a stellar career with her national side, winning three Olympic gold medals and a whole host of other accolades.
The fact that she’s a beautiful athlete was picked up on, and so Heather’s also done plenty of modelling over the years. She’s actually been rated as being one of the world’s most stunning athletes, so you can imagine she’s pretty used to being in front of the cameras. She balanced modelling with her soccer career, then when she retired in 2013, she got in front of the cameras again, this time as a studio analyst and sportscaster. She’s held a number of commentary jobs, but is also keen to give back. Every year she teaches kids her craft by holding soccer camps throughout the U.S. helping kids fall in love with the game, just as she did those many years ago.
15 Tanith Belbin Loves The Performance Side Of Things
33-year-old Tanith Belbin began skating way back in 1986. Starting out on the ice at such a young age, it was inevitable that she was going to make a career out of ice dancing. That’s exactly what she did. After growing up in Canada, she moved over to the States in order to further her career. Her decision was vindicated; she enjoyed plenty of achievements for team USA, one of which was being the 2006 Olympic silver medalist. Tanith retired from competitive ice dancing in 2010, but she was never going to step away from the sport entirely. She now earns her corn commentating with various networks on ice dancing competitions. But she has an eye for performance and still wants to utilize her expertise. That’s why, in addition to taking on commentating roles, Tanith also works as a choreographer; that’s something she can really get her teeth into and that can get her creative juices flowing.
14 Mike Tyson: No Longer The Baddest Man On The Planet
Pretty much everyone knows of Mike Tyson. Once upon a time, he was deemed to be the baddest man on the planet, due to the way he went about things, inside the ring and out. He was destructive but was also a hugely entertaining fighter to watch. A lot of people wouldn’t know of Tyson’s Olympic pedigree. Nowadays, fighters look try to get Olympic medals and make names for themselves as a stepping stone to the pro ranks. It was the same in Tyson’s era during in the early 80s. He won gold medals at two Junior Olympic Games. Then in the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA, he won gold as a heavyweight.
His subsequent rise through the ranks as a superstar boxer was swift, as was his fall from grace. The troubled star fought his last fight in 2005. Since then he’s been involved in plenty of things. He’s tried to get his life back on track, and in the meantime has taken to promoting companies, has tried his hand at acting, has debuted his one-man show to Broadway, has formed a boxing promoting company, has become an author, and has embarked on numerous other business ventures. Mike’s basically tried to surround himself with good people, do good things, lead a better life, and be a better human being. He’s the baddest man on the planet no more, and we are happy to see him thriving.
13 Amy Acuff Has An Artistic Side To Her Personality
Amazingly, USA track and field athlete Amy Acuff has competed at five Olympic Games! That’s a pretty staggering achievement in itself, not even taking into account all she achieved during that time too. After her fourth Olympic Games, she retired for the first time, but still had that competitive streak within her, and so came back in London 2012. During that brief retirement, she had her first child, and began working as a licensed acupuncturist. Amy’s also known as much for her modelling as her prowess as an athlete. She’s posed for a ton of photoshoots over the years, which made her level of popularity shoot up. Since retiring for good, Amy’s continued with her modelling and her work as an acupuncturist, but she’s also a pretty decent artist and has earned her corn by drawing and painting pictures.
12 McKayla Maroney Has Been Doing Well Since Her Early Retirement
Look at McKayla Maroney and you wouldn’t think she’d be in retirement. You’d be right to think that she’s young, because she’s only 22! She was forced to retire due to injuries, but in a way, she’ll take solace in the fact she achieved a whole lot during her short career. She won multiple gold medals as an artistic gymnast, but arguably her most famous moment came at London 2012. She won silver, wasn’t happy about it, and her “not impressed” expression went viral, making McKayla an internet sensation of sorts. Although she retired in 2016 due to injuries, McKayla can still establish herself in another line of work and has plenty of time to explore other ventures. Since retiring she’s made her singing debut, and has made the odd media appearance here and there. It seems as if she’s still trying to figure out what path to go down, as gymnastics had been her whole life to that point. But she’s young and still has plenty of time to do whatever she wants.
11 Dara Torres Proves That Old Is Gold
Dara Torres has just hit the half century mark. Knowing that she’s 50 and was a former competitive swimmer, you’d probably think she’s been retired for a long time, possibly decades. It might surprise a lot of you to learn that Dara was still competing into her 40s. Her career as an Olympian for team USA spanned 24 years, and during this time she earned 12 Olympic medals. Those are pretty remarkable stats. Unsurprisingly, Dara found it incredibly tough adjusting to life after competitive swimming. So much of her life had been about competing in the pool. But eventually she got back into the swing of things, began training, looking after her health and fitness, and she started working again. She does the whole media thing now and again, but has found that drive, determination and competitive edge by becoming a barre instructor.
10 Lisa Leslie: MVP Turned Commentator
Women’s basketball has been gaining in popularity year after year. The WNBA is filled with world famous female stars, athletes who are now revered like their male counterparts. One of the reasons for this is because of women such as Lisa Leslie. She can take a great deal of responsibility for making the WNBA the global success it is today. In terms of her achievements, she’s been voted MVP in the WNBA three times, and she’s won Olympic gold four times. Lisa Leslie is without doubt one of the greatest players in the women’s game. In addition to her achievements on court, Lisa has also pursued modelling and acting. She’s also a regular on TV and has made numerous media appearances. But the thing that’s keeping Leslie busy is her work as a commentator. She’s worked for all the top sports networks, and her ownership of the Los Angeles Sparks WNBA team is keeping her occupied.
9 Nancy Kerrigan Will Always Be Known For That Infamous Incident
Nancy Kerrigan, like Tonya Harding, has been in the news a lot recently. That’s because of the film I, Tonya. It’s probably dug up a lot of painful memories for Nancy, and those who weren’t aware of what happened probably have an inkling now. Well, the person Tonya Harding and her ex-husband orchestrated the attack on was Nancy Kerrigan. She was attacked with a police baton, but still went on to compete at that year’s Winter Olympics, picking up a silver medal. She’s probably the most famous silver medalist around. Since her Olympic days, she’s stayed involved in skating, and for a while, toured with ice skating troupes. Understandably due to her fame and popularity because of that incident, Nancy’s made many media appearances. She’s also produced documentaries, and has earned her corn as a sports correspondent.
8 Dominique Dawes In With The Obama Administration
Dominique Dawes has had quite a career. The artistic gymnast was a member of the U.S. team for a decade. By far her biggest achievement was winning gold as part of the Magnificent Seven at the 1996 Atlanta Games. She’s also won three bronze Olympic medals, and has a whole host of other accolades to her name. Dominique has always thought about life after gymnastics, has always pursued other ventures. She was eager to get into acting, modelling, and TV, and she’s done just that. From commercials, to photoshoots, music videos and Broadway, Dominique has done it all. Most people will know her for hosting Yahoo! News Weekend Edition, but her biggest achievement outside of gymnastics was getting appointed as a chair of President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition by Barack Obama. Dominique has done a bit of everything, and certainly isn’t sitting back twiddling her thumbs after retirement.
7 Amanda Beard’s Doing A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That
Amanda Beard is rated as being one of team USA’s greatest ever athletes. Look at her achievements, her level of popularity, and you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. The former American Swimmer of the Year gained that title for a reason. She smashed the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, and has won seven Olympic medals, including 14 others in other major international competitions. Amanda hasn’t officially retired yet. Well, she has. It’s just that she’s one of these athletes who frequently comes in and out of retirement. But when she does actually retire for good, she’s not going to be short of a thing or two to do. Amanda certainly keeps herself busy away from the pool. She’s done a ton of modelling, has made many media appearances, and has become an author. Since failing to make the team for the 2012 Olympics, she’s also been focusing more on family life. She deserves to after all the sacrifices she’s made and everything she’s done for team USA over the years.
6 Floyd Mayweather Jr. Is Sitting Pretty At The Top Of The Boxing World
It really is amazing to look back at certain athlete’s career to see where they started and see how far they’ve come. When Floyd Mayweather Jr. first started boxing, it was evident that he had something about him. He was schooled in the sweet science of boxing, and is someone who possessed a great amount of technical prowess. But even so, no one could have envisaged him going through his whole professional career unbeaten, with 50 fights and 50 victories. It really is a tremendous achievement, making Mayweather one of the greatest fighters to have ever laced up the gloves. The journey began for Mayweather at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He won bronze at the games, but team USA thought something fishy was going on and that the judges weren’t scoring him fairly. Fast forward 22 years, and Floyd is basically chilling, enjoying his retirement in his 22,000 square-foot mansion. He does some boxing promoting here and there, but Floyd is essentially just revelling in his life of luxury.
5 Natalie Coughlin Is A Real Foodie
Swimmer Natalie Coughlin is another stellar performer for team USA. Amazingly, she’s won 12 Olympic medals, 60 in all major international competitions, including a staggering 25 golds. You can therefore appreciate why Natalie is rated so highly amongst U.S. athletes and in the world of competitive swimming. Just before she turned 33, Natalie set a new world record, and then promptly retired. What a way to bow out. Since retiring, Natalie’s done the usual things that ex-athletes tend to do. She’s gotten involved in the media side of things, has worked as a commentator and analyst, has made numerous TV appearances, and has done a fair bit of modelling too. But Natalie’s passion lies with food. She’s been a food judge, has been on numerous cooking shows, and is proudly a brand ambassador for the company, Luvo Inc., which is a frozen food company. Recently she’s also become a Zero Hunger Ambassador for the World Food Program.
4 A Lot Has Changed In Caitlyn Jenner’s Life Since Retirement
Bruce Jenner captured the nation’s heart due to his exploits in the 1976 Olympics in the Decathlon. He became a national hero, and one of America’s most revered athletes. Bruce certainly capitalized on his fame, took advantage of all the opportunities that came his way. He pursued a film and TV career, became a motivational speaker and spokesperson for different brands, ventured into the world of motorsport racing, and has been involved in various other business. Oh, and there’s just one more thing. He married Kris Jenner, and thus the now world-famous Jenner-Kardashian partnership was formed. We saw their lives pan out in front of the cameras in their reality TV series. That’s what made Bruce known to the masses. In 2015, Bruce came out as a transgender woman. Bruce subsequently became Caitlyn, and since then she’s launched her own show and has been doing a whole lot for the LGBT community. She is now the most famous trans person in the world, and has done a lot to increase awareness of trans issues.
3 Haley Cope Operates Her Own Swimming School
It’s amazing what these Olympic swimmers from team USA achieve. Most of them achieve plenty of success and end up getting medals by the stack load. Haley Cope is no different. She’s a former world record holder and Olympic silver medalist. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, the Olympics wasn’t her best competition, but she made up for the lack of medals at the World Championships by bringing home eight medals.
Haley’s another swimmer who’s done a lot of modelling. She received a tremendous amount of attention when she posed for Hugh Hefner in 2004, and has done many other shoots over the years. But something that’s keeping her preoccupied is raising her kids. After marrying her former coach, they went on to have four kids. She balances her family life with running her own swim school for babies, toddlers, and children in Chico, California, called Watersprites swim school.
2 Summer Sanders Is Heavily Involved In The Media
Part of the reason why America rakes in so many medals when it comes to swimming events is because they have so many world-class competitors to choose from. It’s obviously a big event in America. Kids start out training young, and are eager to emulate the successes of athletes such as those on this list. Guys and girls have plenty of role models they can look up to. It’s fair to assume that Summer Sanders is a role model for many kids. 1992 Was the standout year for Sanders. She won four medals at the Olympics, and cemented herself as one of the best swimmers around. Since retiring, Sanders has done a ton of work in the media. She’s appeared in TV shows, has played the role of contestant and host, has done plenty of commentating and reporting, and has done a bit of acting too. She’s currently a game show host and has taken up commentating duties for Pac-12 Network.
1 Michael Phelps: The World’s Greatest Olympian Is Taking It Easy
When it comes to the most successful Olympic athletes, Michael Phelps tops the list by a country mile. What he’s achieved for team USA in the Olympics just makes ridiculous reading. He’s won 28 medals at various Olympic Games, with 23 being gold. There’s no other athlete that even comes close to matching his achievements. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that Phelps got up to plenty of things outside the pool during his competition days. There was media work, modelling, endorsements – everyone wanted a piece of Phelps. Actually, he probably even turned a lot of opportunities down, because Phelps is a man who has a rigid focus. Now that he’s retired, he’s concentrating on family life. He also does a lot of charity work, has just joined a company focused on diagnosing mental health disorders, but his main focus at the moment is his family. He is spending his time on relaxing and enjoying retirement.
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