For The Record

Issue 11 2014


For most athletes, reaching the Olympic Games in their chosen sport is the realisation of a lifelong dream, but many are now pushing the boundaries by transferring their talents to other sports and achieving similar success elsewhere on the Olympic stage.

Take a look at ten Olympians who changed sports

Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams of the USA stood together on the podium at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Both women are examples of a new generation in talent transfer, the art of pairing the right athlete with the right sport.

Meyers found herself at the front of the USA 1 sled having failed in her dream of reaching the Olympic Games in softball, switching to bobsleigh when her parents saw the sport on television. The 29-year-old won bronze in her new sport at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, establishing herself as one of bobsleigh’s leading pilots. Now, she wants to play rugby sevens in Rio in 2016.

Williams is a convert to bobsleigh from athletics who finished second in the 100m at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. She retired from athletics in June 2013, having capped her track and field career with Olympic gold in London in 2012, aged 28, running as part of the US 4x100m relay team. Though she owns a gold medal, she did not race in the final – her contribution came in the heats.

Both began their journey in other sports and were brought together by a shared ambition of crossing what may be the new final frontier for Olympians: reaching the top in more than one sport.

“Yes, I was already an Olympic champion. I guess that’s a good point,” laughs Williams. “But I was looking for something to stimulate me. I was trying to figure out what to do next.”

Having come so close to gold at Sochi 2014, Meyers feels she has unfinished business. She plans to return to bobsleigh for the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018.

In the meantime, she is trying to lure bobsleigh team-mate Williams across to rugby sevens – as yet, without joy. “I was fortunate to find a sport in bobsleigh that catered to the way my body changed. Rugby? I don’t know,” says Williams. “But it starts to seep into your mind: what else could I be good at? In what other ways could my body reach its full potential?

“My advice to any athlete is: ‘Don’t put any limitations on yourself.’ I trained in Florida for the last 12 years. There’s no snow in Florida. Who’d have thought I’d be doing a winter sport? “We sometimes pigeonhole ourselves. ‘I’m good at this and it’s the only thing I can be good at.’ Don’t say what you can’t do – get out there and try it.”

Ten Olympians who changed sports

IOC Athletes’ Commission Member HAYLEY WICKENHEISER
(Softball—Ice Hockey)

Played for the Canada softball team at the 2000 Olympic Games, two years after her Olympic debut for the Canadian women’s ice hockey team at Nagano 1998. She then returned to ice hockey at Salt Lake City 2002, winning the first of four consecutive Olympic golds.


British rowing silver medallist in the women’s quadruple sculls at Athens 2004 (and a world champion in 2005), who subsequently joined the burgeoning GB track cycling programme and rode to gold in the individual pursuit at Beijing 2008. She also won individual and team pursuit world titles and has since taken up long-distance triathlon.

(Cycling—Speed Skating)

After road race and time trial cycling bronze medals for Canada at Atlanta 1996, Hughes won bronze in the 5,000m speed skating at Salt Lake City 2002. In 2006 she added 5,000m gold and a silver in team pursuit, to become the first Olympian to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games. She returned to cycling at London 2012.

(Swimming—Triathlon—Modern pentathlon)

A gold medallist for the USA in swimming’s 4x200m freestyle relay at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, Taormina added cycling and running to her repertoire in order to race on triathlon’s Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000. She finished sixth that year and 23rd four years later in Athens before switching sports once more – this time adding fencing, showjumping and shooting to her repertoire to become a modern pentathlete, placing 19th at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. She was the first woman to qualify for the Games in three different sports.

(Speed Skating—Cycling)

One of only two athletes in history to twice compete in both Summer and Winter Games in the same year – a feat no longer achievable as the two events are now held two years apart. Won a bronze medal for Japan in speed skating at the Winter Games in Albertville in 1992, before competing in track cycling later that year at the Summer Games in Barcelona. She had earlier achieved the same double in 1988.

(Speed Skating—Cycling)

The only athlete to have won medals in the Winter and Summer Games in the same year, Luding-Rothenburger won speed skating gold at Sarajevo in 1984. In 1988, she added speed skating gold and silver in Calgary before winning track cycling silver in Seoul just months later. She finished her career with speed skating bronze in Albertville in 1992.

(Swimming—Water Polo)

Won four medals in two sports at the same Games in Paris in 1924, amassing three Olympic swimming titles along with a bronze in water polo. Went on to find fame as Tarzan in a succession of movies in the 1930s and 1940s.

(Ski Jumping—Sailing)

Norwegian ski jumper who dominated the sport in the 1920s, winning gold at the 1924 inaugural Winter Games in Chamonix. He later won silver in sailing at the Berlin Games of 1936, becoming the second athlete after Eagan to win both Summer and Winter Olympic medals.


The only athlete ever to win both summer and winter gold medals, Eagan won the 1920 light-heavyweight boxing title then, 12 years later, rode to gold in the US four-man bobsleigh.

(Figure skating—Shooting)

Before the Winter Games came into existence, Panin-Kolomenkin won gold (as Nikolay Panin) when figure skating was held as part of the programme at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. Four years later, he competed as a pistol shooter at the Stockholm Games, finishing fourth in the 50m team event. From 1915 to 1917, he was the General Secretary of the Russian Olympic Committee.

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