Did their lives turn out gold, silver, bronze or chalk outline?
A gold medal is not a free ticket to a great life. After the games are over and Bob Costas is finished making even lame victories sound epic, an Olympian is forced to face the real world. Here’s how a few of the Olympic Superstars fared in their post-Olympic world.
Games: 1984, 1998, 1992, 1996
Medals: Nine golds, one silver in track & field
The man some consider the greatest Olympian of them all (Michael Phelps might argue, but Sports Illustrated named Lewis “The Olympian of the Century,” so he’s got that going for him) hasn’t been quite as successful off the track. He’s tried his hand acting (Perfect Strangers, Material Girls) singing...
and, most recently, politics. Last year he was disqualified in his run for the New Jersey senate because he didn’t actually live in New Jersey. Now he’s attempting to become president of the moon while running for governor of Atlantis.
Games: 1992, 1996
Medals: One bronze, one gold in gymnastics
The springy sprite who won over all of America when she led the “Magnificent 7” to gold by vaulting to victory despite a severely injured ankle. Following the usual post-games media blitz (Wheaties box, SNL) , Strug became a UCLA sorority girl, and then got her masters in sociology at Stanford. Ever the underachiever, Strug went on to serve in the Justice Department. Add a quilt and glass of lemonade and you have the least interesting post-Olympics story of them all. Someone get this girl a scandal or else her biopic will be nothing more than a big screen adaptation of a greeting card.
Games: 1984, 1988
Medals: Two bronze, one (revoked) gold in track and field
The muscle-bound Canadian shocked the world twice in 1988. First, by shattering the world record in the 100-meter dash, and then days later, when he tested positive for steroids, giving the gold medal to Carl Lewis. In the aftermath, Johnson admitted to juicing – just not to juicing with the drug he was accused of. In fact, he claimed that Lewis’ camp framed him. Today he makes his living as a trainer, whose clients have included Muammar Khadafi’s soccer-playing son….who subsequently tested positive for steroids. Hey Kerri Strug: This is how you live life post-Olympics.
Games: 1976, 1984, 1988
Medals: Five golds, one bronze in diving
The greatest diver in American history made waves when he came out of the closet in 1988, following a positive test for HIV. He’s since embraced the out-and-proud lifestyle, campaigning for gay rights, making a fabulous appearance as himself on Portlandia, and competing in dog agility competitions with his pooches Nipper, Gryffindor, Dobby, Hedwig, Dr. Schivago and Captain Woof Blitzer. That is not a joke. Those are the real names.
Games: 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000
Medals: Three gold, one silver in Greco-Roman wrestling
Having gone undefeated for thirteen straight years, “The Russian Bear” was universally considered the most dominant wrestler in history…until he lost to American Rulon Gardner in 2000. Before retiring, the massive Karelin trained like Balboa in Rocky IV: living in a cabin in Siberia, running up mountains, chopping wood, etc. Today he represents the district of Stavropol Krai in the Russian Duma, which is like Congress, but colder.
As one half of Reebok’s “Dan & Dave” ad campaign in the summer of ‘92, O’Brien was inescapable…at least until his botched pole-vaulting in the Olympic trials cost him a spot in the games themselves. Still, he came back to win gold in 1996 and claim the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Since completing his comeback, he’s written a book (Clearing Hurdles: Dan O'Brien's Quest To Be the World's Greatest Athlete), toured the country as a motivational speaker and worked as a coach and trainer. In fact, O’Brien was brought in to help the San Francisco Giants’ fatass Pablo “Kung-Fu Panda” Sandoval get his weight under control.
Games: 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000
Medals: One gold in pole vaulting
Competing for the Soviet Union from 1983 through 1991, and his native Ukraine from 1992 until his retirement in 2001, Bubka was repeatedly named the world’s greatest athlete, thanks to six world titles and an incredible 35 world records. But when it came to the Olympics, Bubka seemed cursed: the Soviet Union boycotted the games in 1984, in 1992 he failed to clear any his first three heights, in 1996 he was forced to withdraw with an injury, and in 2000 he was eliminated. Still, his years of dominance made him a cult hero in Ukraine, where he served in Parliament from 2002 through 2006. Because nothing says “government leader” like a guy who’s good at jumping.
Gary Hall Jr.
Games: 1996, 2000, 2004
Medals: Five gold, three silver, two bronze in swimming
Throughout his career, the outspoken Hall was one of the most colorful athletes around, a dude who treated his sport like a pro wrestler: shadow-boxing during warm-ups and talking trash to rivals. In retirement, Hall has raised awareness of diabetes (he suffers from the disease), battled sharks (when he and his sister were attacked in the Florida Keys in 2006, Hall pummeled the bastard) and moved to California wine country (where his home is sandwiched between the Ronald Reagan Ranch and Neverland Valley Ranch.) Now he spends most of his time relaxing and saying, “Yeah, but can Michael Phelps do this?” before he tries to impress you with his juggling or dance moves.
Oscar De La Hoya
Medals: One gold in boxing
Boxing’s “Golden Boy” is better known for his skills as a professional than for his Olympic success, but he announced himself to the world at the Barcelona games. De La Hoya retired in 2009. As for life outside the ring? Not so Golden. He was accused of rape in 1998 (the case was settled out of court), in 2007 photos of him dressed in women’s clothing leaked, and following years of cocaine and alcohol abuse, he entered rehab in 2011. And the Oscar for saddest post-Olympic career goes to...