Every two years, the world joins together in watching what transpires on the biggest stage of them all, the Winter Olympics and the Summer Olympics. For a few weeks every other year, people everywhere become insanely invested in sports they normally would never watch, while previously unknown athletes become household names. What happened to famous Olympians from years past? Read on to find out!
Although she had a very good career in gymnastics, Kerri Strug will always be remembered mostly for her heroics in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. After injuring her ankle during the team competition, Strug had to participate in the vault in order to give the U.S. team a chance to win the team gold medal. She fought through the pain, stuck the landing and entered Olympic history in the process.
Dominique Moceanu was given the spotlight when Kerri Strug’s injury forced her to withdraw from the all-around competition in the 1996 Olympic Games. At just 14 years old, Dominique came out of nowhere to win the Women’s Individual All-Around gold medal. Unfortunately, she had to retire just four years later due to a number of injuries. She has since written an autobiography and earned a degree in business management.
Summer Sanders won an incredible four gold medals during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. She has stayed in the public eye since then, commentating and conducting interviews for NBC’s coverage of later Olympics. She also briefly hosted the game show Figure Out from 1997 to 1999. She married former Olympic skier Erik Schlopy in 2005 and they have two children.
Alicia Sacramone had a much longer career in gymnastics than many competitors are able to have. She won 12 total medals while competing in the U.S. National Championships, 2004 Olympic Games, and 2008 Olympic Games. In 2012, she tried but was unable to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, but she found a silver lining as she became a spokesmodel for the popular CoverGirl cosmetics brand.
Nastia Liukin had gymnastics in her genes, as her parents were both successful gymnasts. She was born in Moscow, Russia, but grew up in the U.S. after moving there at a young age. Her specialty was the balance beam, as she was the world champion in the event during 2005 and 2007. In 2008, she won five medals including a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. After failing to make the team in 2012, she retired from the sport.
Dominique Dawes was not the most famous member of the “Magnificent 7” when the 1996 Olympic Games began, but she made the biggest splash of the U.S. women’s team that year, taking the individual all-around gold medal. She medaled in three separate Olympics, making her the gold standard in gymnastic longevity. She has since taken to commentating the Olympic Games and works for the U.S. as a sports adviser.
Nadia Comaneci is said by many to be the best Olympic gymnast of all time. She won nine medals, including three gold medals. She also won four world championships and earned the first perfect score in Olympic gymnastics history. She was even named among the best athletes in the entire 20th century by the Laureus World Sports Academy. She has since settled down, marrying Bart Conner, a fellow Olympic gold medalist.
When it comes to dominant Olympic athletes, Michael Phelps is certainly one of the first names to come up. Phelps won an incredible 28 medals, including 23 gold medals, during his long Olympic career. He came back one more time to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but vows to stay retired and spend time with his family now.
Every now and then, a personality emerges that is able to take an entire sport to the next level of popularity. Kristi Yamaguchi was such a competitor, capturing the heart of a nation during the 1992 Winter Olympics, where she won a gold medal to go along with her two world championships. She has since won “Dancing with the Stars” and published a book. She also works as an Olympic figure skating analyst for NBC.
Allyson Felix first competed in the Olympics in 2008 and plans to continue doing so, with six Olympic gold medals already on her resume. Not only is Felix the first female track and field competitor to win six gold medals, but she has also won another 11 gold medals at various world championships over the years. Felix is an outspoken supporter of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s efforts to keep the sport of track and field clean.
Carl Lewis is perhaps the most famous U.S. track and field athlete of the past fifty years, having won nine Olympic gold medals in his career, including four at the 1984 Olympics alone. Lewis was named Sports Illustrated‘s Athlete of the Year three times. Since retiring from the sport, Lewis has started a branding company and showed an interest in politics.
Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton was the talk of the 1984 Olympic Games, where she won the individual all-around gold medal in front of U.S. fans and became a national success story. After winning five total medals, she retired from gymnastics and worked to support fitness causes across the country. She has four children with her husband and currently lives in the Houston, Texas, area.
Janet Beth Evans
Olympic swimmer Janet Beth Evans was able to win four gold medals between the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, setting world records in the process. She was especially known for her windmill stroke in the freestyle swimming events, which allowed her to compete with taller athletes. Since retiring from swimming, she has worked to bring the Olympics back to the U.S. and spent her time raising two children with her husband, Bill.
The outspoken Ian Thorpe was always one of the biggest personalities in swimming during his career. He overcame a chlorine allergy to win five Olympic gold medals, becoming Australia’s most decorated Olympian in the process. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury in 2013 derailed his plans to continue in competitive swimming. Thorpe has since come out as gay in an attempt to encourage others to be open with their sexual orientation.
Bart Conner was a big name during the 1984 Olympic Games, when he won two gold medals as a part of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team. After his competitive career came to an end, he founded the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Oklahoma, where he helps train future Olympic hopefuls. He is married to fellow Olympic legend Nadia Comaneci.
Edwin Moses was the very epitome of consistent greatness during his track and field career. He won 107 consecutive finals and set four world records in the 400-meter hurdles from 1977 to 1987, winning gold medals in 1976 and 1984. He was added to the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994 and has earned an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts. He still stays active by competing in bobsledding.
Sir Chris Hoy
Not many competitors can say that they won six gold medals across a 12-year period, but Chris Hoy did. During his cycling career, he established himself as not only the most decorated Olympic cyclist ever, but the most successful Olympic athlete in Scottish history, to boot. After 2012, Hoy decided to leave the world of cycling for a faster mode of travel by becoming a race car driver.
Since she was six years old, Natalie Coughlin was active in the pool, swimming with a goal of becoming a legendary Olympic athlete. In 2004, she made that dream come true, winning two gold medals. She added more medals in 2008 and 2012, before finally retiring from the sport. She has capped off her successful swimming career with success in the business world, investing in a frozen foods company and becoming a brand ambassador.
Paavo Nurmi was nicknamed the “Flying Finn” as one of the most dominant long distance runners of the 20th century. During a career that spanned 14 years, Nurmi was never defeated in the 10,000-meter race or in a cross country race. Between the 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympic Games, he won an astounding 12 medals, including nine gold medals. Although he got married in the 1930s, Nurmi largely kept to himself until his death in 1973.
The charismatic Usain Bolt made the 100-meter dash a marquee race again over the past decade, which culminated in the 2016 Olympic Games, where he won three gold medals. He was advised by Michael Phelps to retire while on top of the sport and seems to have taken that advice. He is now focused on his family, which may be a relief after becoming embroiled in rumors of cheating during the 2016 Summer Games.
Everyone has heard of the “Miracle on Ice,” which was when an unsung U.S. ice hockey team beat a Soviet team that had previously bested the NHL All-Stars. Mike Eruzione was the captain of that magical team and the player to have the most success in the pros after that gold medal. Since retiring from hockey, Mike has worked with Boston University and raised two children with his wife.
Before Michael Phelps, Matt Biondi was the swimmer who had come closest to topping Mark Spitz’s gold medal total. During his career, Biondi won eight gold medals in the Olympics while setting three individual world records. He was recognized for an illustrious career by being included in the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. He now coaches swimming at a small L.A. high school.
Before Michael Phelps topped her total, Larisa Latynina was the most decorated Olympian of all time, amassing an incredible 18 Olympic medals. Her total included 6 individual gold medals and three team gold medals. After her competitive career came to an end, Larisa began coaching the Soviet women’s team, leading them to team gold medals in three separate Olympic Games.
In the 1968 Winter Olympics, all of France rallied behind Jean-Claude Killy, who won three gold medals in skiing. He also won two gold cups during his career. After he was done in competitive skiing, he married French actress Danielle Gaubert, with whom he had a daughter. Nowadays, Killy is often in the news due to his close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
No Norwegian athlete has been more successful on the world’s biggest stage than Bjorn Daehlie, who won eight gold medals during his cross-country skiing career. He accumulated a total of 29 medals from the Olympic Games and World Championships as an active skiier and still competes today. When he’s not competing, he enjoys a second career as a fashion designer.
Sawao Kato won eight gold medals and 12 overall medals during his Olympic career, giving him more medals than any other Japanese athlete in history. He retired in style, having just won a gold medal in the men’s individual all-around category in 1976. Kato was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2001 and has taught for the University of Tsukuba since 2010.
Nancy Kerrigan was a very talented figure skater, but sadly is most well-known for the scandal that involved rival skater Tonya Harding’s ex-husband hiring a goon to whack her in the knee with a police baton. The plan backfired, as Kerrigan won the silver medal seven weeks later while Harding finished eighth. Since her skating career ended, Kerrigan has often been seeing endorsing products and getting involved in charitable causes.
As a three-time world champion, Peggy Fleming dominated women’s figure skating between 1966 and 1968. In 1968, she won a gold medal during the Winter Games. She would go on to get married in 1970, having two sons with her husband. Peggy has been seen often as a commentator for national and world figure skating events and has three grandchildren, as well.
After winning four medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Shawn Johnson was thrust into the annals of U.S. gymnastics history. She planned to return in 2012 to add to her medal count, but tore her ACL in 2010 while she was skiing. After working hard to rehabilitate the injury, she eventually decided that it would be best for her to retire from gymnastics and move on.
Although she was a talented gymnast, McKayla Maroney is doomed to be most remembered for her famous facial expression after winning the silver medal in the vault at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She was more successful in the team competition, where she helped the U.S. women’s team take home the gold. She has since transitioned into a music and entertainment career.