The Olympic Games are the pinnacle for the careers of many world-class athletes. These competitors compete on a global stage where viewers from around the world judge their every action. There may not be a more intense competitive stage. Successful Olympians over the years have seen a major shift in their post-Olympic careers. In the 20th-century major endorsement deals were not a reality for most Olympic athletes but today you can earn millions by bringing home the gold in popular sports.
Let’s take a look back at what Olympic champions from the 20th and 21st centuries have done after their competitive days were behind them.
Ray Ewry Recovered From Polio And Became An Olympic Legend
Long before Michael Phelps owned the pool, there was this track and field powerhouse. Ewry’s prime was before the time of multimillion-dollar sports sponsorship deals. The American would recover from polio as a child to become one of the most successful Olympians ever.
From 1900 to 1908, he competed in three Olympic Games, while clinching 10 gold medals in standing long jump, standing high jump, and standing triple jump. Later on, he worked as an engineer, designing boilers for US naval vessels during WWI.
Jim Thorpe Was Inducted Into The NFL Hall Of Fame
Despite never throwing a javelin in his life before the Olympics, Thorpe owned both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Games. The first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States was stripped of his award after officials discovered he was paid to play two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Games.
Following his athletic tenure, Thorpe served as the first president of the American Professional Football Association, later becoming the NFL. In 1963, he would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Duke Kahanamoku Popularized Surfing And Became An Actor
The “Big Kahuna” is more famous for popularizing the sport of surfing. The five-time Olympic medalist won three gold and two silver medals in swimming at the 912, 1920, and 1924 Games. Between Olympic competitions, and after retiring, Kahanamoku traveled internationally to give swimming lessons.
But, surfing was mostly only known to his native Hawaii as his exhibitions brought the sport in warmer climates. Outside of being an athlete, Kahanamoku was an actor, appearing in many movies from 1925 to 1957. In addition, he was also a law enforcement officer and businessman.
Paavo Nurmi Became A Haberdashery Owner
“The Flying Finn” earned the nickname by dominating track & field in the 1920, 1924, 1928, and 1932 games. He claimed nine gold medals over the course of his decorated track career. After ending his career, Nurmi became a coach for the Finnish Athletics Federation and trained runners for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Plus, he went on to own a haberdashery in downtown Helsinki. The shop instantly became a local hotspot as visitors showed up to try and meet the Finnish Olympic legend.
Eric Liddell Helped The Poor During WWII And Ended Up Being Captured
The “Flying Scotsman” shocked the running world during the 1924 Games in Paris, Liddell. Despite being the favorite, he opted out of the 100-meter race as the heats were held on a Sunday. Instead, he would go on to win the 400-meter race.
Liddell was born in China to Scottish missionaries, so he returned to his home to work as one himself. When Japan invaded during WWII, he served the poor in a rural mission outpost. Eventually, he was imprisoned in a Japanese interment camp, dying in 1945.
Johnny Weissmuller Transformed Into Tarzan On The Big Screen
Weissmuller won five gold medals in both the 1924 and 1928 Summer Games. The swimmer turned his athletic wins into a profit center by hosting swim shows, promoting swimwear, and appearing in movies.
The swimmer-turned actor’s more epic legacy was his portrayal as Tarzan in six MGM movies. After his Hollywood fame declined, the former Olympian turned to amateur golfing while starting a swimming pool company. The Romanians distinctive Tarzan yell is still often used in films.
Read ahead to see the Czech athlete who became known for competing with an expression of pain on his face.
Jesse Owens Destroyed One Of Hitler’s German Stereotypes
Owens will forever be known as one of the greatest track and field athletes. His big moment came during the 1936 Games in Berlin where he picked up an impressive four gold medals in the long jump, 100 meters, 200 meters, and a relay.
His triumph and athleticism was a blow to Hitler’s propaganda about the superiority of Germans. After the games, he campaigned for Republican Alf Landon in the presidential race. Owens even attempted to capitalize on commercial offers but found himself blacklisted by US athletic officials, withdrawing his amateur status.
Bob Mathias Went Into The Marines And Then Became A Lawmaker
Mathias clinched victory at the 1948 Olympics after nearly fouling out of the shot put and failing the high jump. Then, at the following games, he won by the decathlon by 900, the largest gap in history.
After his career in sports quieted down, he opted for the Marines, rising to the rank of captain. Later on, he would represent San Joaquin Valley of California for four terms in the US House of Representatives as a Republican.
Emil Zatopek Became A Uranium Miner After Failing To Find Safer Work
The Czech phenom achieved fame for winning both the 5,000 and the 10,000 meter. Plus, he won the marathon at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland. It was the first marathon Zatopek had ever run in his life.
The accomplishment earned him the nickname the “Czech Locomotive” and he became known for competing with an expression of pain on his face. Zaptoek would fall out of his country’s Communist Party after the Prague Spring. He was forced to work dangerous jobs from a digger to a uranium miner.
Long before Michael Phelps, an iconic American swimmer once took home seven medals in 1972.
Boris Shakhlin Became A Professor After A Heart Attack Pulled Him Away From Gymnastics
“The Man Of Iron” raked in 13 Olympic medals over the course of his career. The Soviet gymnast took home seven medals, one for the 1960 individual all-round competition. Shaklin competed in the 1956 Melbourne Games, the 1960 Rome Games, and the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Unfortunately, a heart attack forced Shaklin to retire from the sport at the age of 35. Afterward, he would turn his attention to working for the International Gymnastics Federation and academia. He would also work as a professor at the University of Kiev in the nineties and 2000s.
Wilma Rudolph Became A Teacher And A Sports Analyst
Considered the fastest woman alive in the sixties, Rudolph became the first woman to take home three gold medals. This occurred at the 1960 Games in Rome, overcoming bouts of polio in order to become one of the most iconic Olympians of her time.
After her successful fame, Rudolph turned her attention to school, teaching second grade at the school she attended. In addition, she would coach track at a local high school, and became a television sports correspondent.
Mark Spitz Was Part Of A Quentin Tarantino Produced Documentary
The American swimmer was the first athlete to win seven gold medals at the same Olympics in 1972. Following the incredible feat, he retired from the sport at the age of 22. Spitz would go into show business after the tragic Munich Games.
He made an appearance on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, as well as helping roast Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California. In 2004, he earned praise for his narration in a Quentin Tarantino-produced documentary about the 1956 water polo match between Russia and Hungary.
One of the most popular athletes from the 1984 Games is coming up next.
Lasse Viren Picked Himself Up And Served In Finland’s Parliament
Viren was running in the 10,000 meter run in the 1972 Olympics games when he tumbled and fell to the ground. He would pick himself up and win the gold medal in that event. In addition, he also took home the gold in the 5,000-meter race.
During the 1976 Summer Olympics, he won win two additional gold medals, earning both in the same events in 1972. Eventually, he went on to serve in Finland’s Parliament from 1999 to 2007, then again from 2010 to 2011.
Caitlyn Jenner Capitalized On Her Success With Endorsement Deals
She was a decathlete who had an unforgettable Olympic moment. During the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Jenner would take home the gold medal following a spectacular performance.
After receiving an American flag from a spectator, she kicked off the tradition of winning athletes receiving flags. Jenner would capitalize on the Olympic success, including being a spokesperson for Wheaties. She would try her hand at acting in shows like Murder, She Wrote and The Apprentice.
Mary Lou Retton Became A Political Spokesperson And Received Endorsement Deals
Retton became one of the most popular athletes in the world following the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Her big moment came when she clinched the gold medal in the individual all-around competition, become the first American to do so.
A year later, she won the 1985 American Cup all-around competition for the third and final time, retiring in 1986. A Christian conservative, she was an outspoken supporter of the Reagan administration in the United States. In addition, Retton was a spokeswoman for the US drugstore chain Revco.
One of the most decorative cyclists in the Olympics is still on the way.
Elisabeta Lipa Went Into The Political Arena
The Romanian rower won eight medals, five of them being gold, at six different Olympic Games. The feat would make her the most decorated rower in the history of the games. Plus, Lipa would participate in every Summer Olympics from 1984 up until 2004 in Athens, Greece.
Since 2004, she has served in various government positions, including the Minister of Youth and Sport in the current cabinet under Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos. Since 2009, she served ads the President of the Romanian Rowing Federation.
Kerri Strug Earned A Master’s Degree From Standford University
The gymnast’s big moment came at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Strug landed an incredible vault on her injured ankle to clinch the gold medal for the Americans. Shortly after her feat, Strug participated in the Ice Capades and Disney’s World On Ice.
Afterward, she announced her retirement and enrolled to UCLA. As a professional, she couldn’t compete in NCAA gymnasts events, so she opted to work a behind-the-scenes role as team manager instead. She would later transfer to Stanford, earning a master’s degree in Sociology.
Chris Hoy Was Knights And Works To Inspire Young Athletes With His Fiction Writing
One of the most decorated cyclists to every pedal a bike, Hoy has seven medals under his belt. Hoy has six gold medals, which is more than what any other British athlete has won at the games. At the 2008 Games, Hoy became the first British Olympian in 100 years to claim three golds at one game. This came when he won the men’s keirin, the men’s team sprint, and the men’s individual sprint. Hoy has since been knighted but also inspires young athletes through fiction with his books about a cyclist named “Flying Fergus.”
Michael Phelps Was Heavily Endorsed And Started A Foundation
When he won eight gold medals in 2008, the American swimmer broke Mark Spitz’s record. Spitz originally owned the record after taking home seven gold medals back in 1972. In 2012 and 2016, Phelps took home a combined 12 medals, nine gold medals, and three silver.
Phelps would start the Michael Phelps Foundation, focusing on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthier lifestyles. He’s taking the initiative to work on his Foundation more since his retirement in 2016.
Lindsey Vonn Recently Retired And Continues To Rake In Endorsement Deals
In 2010, Vonn won the gold medal in downhill at the Olympic Games in Vancouver. The feat made her the first won for an American woman to take home the gold. In addition, she also won two bronze medals, one coming from 2010 as well as her last one at Pyeongchang in 2018.
One of the most successful American alpine skiers called it a career in 2019. On February 10, she won the bronze medal in her final career event at the World Championships in Sweden.