The following is reprinted from the book Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader.
The Olympics can turn an unknown athlete into an international star overnight. But then what? For most, there are no professional leagues to join. So what do they do?
Athlete: Mark Spitz
Event: Swimming (1972)
Story: Spitz won two gold medals in the 1968 Olympics, but going into the 1972 Games, he told a reporter he planned on winning six more golds. He didn't -he won seven, a single Games record that stood until 2008. Not only that, but all of his winning times in those seven swimming events (100m and 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, and three four-man relays) were new world records.
After: The 22-year-old swimmer became an overnight sensation -he appeared on magazine covers, posters, and advertisements, often striking risque poses while clad in only his Speedo (and mustache). He then went into show business, playing a paramedic on the medical drama Emergency! and reportedly making the short list to host the 1973 Academy Awards, despite the fact that he had never made a movie (or hosted a live TV show). There was even speculation that he might be the next James Bond. In 1974 Spitz decided he didn't like acting and started a successful motivational speaking company. In 1992 he attempted to make the U.S. swim team for the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain ...and almost did. At age 42, his times in the trials were actually better than they'd been in the 1972 trials. But the level of competition had increased so much in the previous twenty years that Spitz wasn't fast enough to make the team. Still, he was the last swimmer cut.
Athlete: Bruce Jenner
Event: Decathlon (1976)
Story: Jenner played football in college, but switched to track and field because he felt football was too physically draining. His event: the decathlon, which consists of ten individual events: 100m, 400m, and 1500m runs, 110m hurdles, javelin, pole vault, discus, high jump, long jump, and shot put. Jenner won the gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, setting a record high score, and as he ran a victory lap, he carried an American flag handed to him by a fan. It became one of American sports' most iconic images.
After: Completely dominating what is considered one of the most difficult and grueling sporting events made Jenner an instant celebrity. Helping matters were Jenner's movie star good looks, which he took, naturally, to Hollywood. It didn't go so well -after turning down a chance to star in the movie version of Superman, he co-starred with The Village People in the musical Can't Stop the Music (considered by many critics to be one of the worst movies of all time) and spent half a season on the police drama CHiPs filling in for Erik Estrada, who was in a contract dispute. More recently, Jenner has become a regular on TV reality shows and game show "celebrity" editions, including Skating with Celebrities, Family Feud, I'm a Celebrity ...Get me Out Of Here, and The Weakest Link. He currently co-stars on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which follows Jenner, his second wife Kris Kardashian, and his children and stepchildren.
Athlete: Dick Fosbury
Event: High jump (1968)
Story: Before Fosbury, the usual method of performing the high jump was to run straight to the bar, then jump over it, with legs spread, either front-to-back or side-to-side. Fosbury found that he was too tall to successfully execute it, so he worked on a new method. When Fosbury went up, he ran to the bar at a curve, then jumped over the bar backwards, landing on his back. The curved run allowed for more power and leverage in the jump, and the backwards landing let him focus all of his energy on the jump because he didn't have to worry about a soft landing. He won the gold medal.
After: Not many athletes can say they completely revolutionized their sport. Today, his method -nicknamed the "Fosbury Flop" by a sportswriter- is the only way athletes attempt the high jump.
Event: Gymnastics (1976)
Story: The 14-year-old Romanian was the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10.0 from all seven judges. She won three gold medals in 1976. (She came in second in the individual all-around in 1980, by less than one-tenth of a point.) She won golds on the beam (1976 and '80) and floor exercise (1980), for a career medal count of five gold, three silver, and one bronze.
After: Comaneci returned to Romania and trained Olympic hopefuls. But in 1989 she defected to the United States and in 1996 married gymnast Bart Conner. Comaneci now coaches gymnastics in Norman, Oklahoma, writes for International Gymnast, and provides commentary during gymnastics TV broadcasts.
Nadia Comaneci, Peggy Fleming, and Bart Conner in 2008. (Image credit: Flickr user Alex Calderon)
Bonus: Comaneci was so popular that she inspired a hit song. ABC used the theme song from The Young and the Restless as music for showing much-repeated montages of her perfect routine. It was renamed "Nadia's Theme" and became a top ten hit in late 1976.
Athlete: Greg Louganis
Event: Diving (1988)
Story: Louganis first competed in the 1976 Games at age 16, winning a silver medal in 10m platform diving. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games (held in the communist USSR), but Louganis returned in 1984 with record-setting scores in both the 10m platform dive and 3m springboard dive. Amazingly, he won the gold medal in both events again at the 1988 Games in South Korea with even better scores than before. But what really made Louganis famous was a slipup: During a dive in a preliminary round, he leapt off the board, did a midair flip, came back down... and smashed his head on the diving board. Louganis suffered a concussion, but still won the gold medal.
After: Louganis retired from diving after the 1988 Games and became a spokesman for several non-profit groups, raising awareness of depression and domestic violence, both of which he'd suffered. In 1994 Louganis made news with the announcement that he was homosexual. The following year he wrote his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, a #1 bestseller for five weeks. The book created a controversy with the revelation that Louganis was HIV positive, and had been so during his Olympics accident -which had spilled some of his blood into the pool. (None of his competitors became infected as a result.) Since then, he's been a TV announcer at diving events, acted in the Broadway play Jeffrey, and competed with his Jack Russell Terriers in dog agility competitions.
____________________________The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader.
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