Strange Paths to Multiple Medals

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You might have seen gymnast Oksana Chusovitina pick up a silver medal for Germany in the women's vault final this weekend, an astounding feat for a 33-year-old mother in a sport dominated by girls half her age. Her age alone would make the story noteworthy, but the tale of Chusovitina joining Germany's team after leaving her native Uzbekistan to seek medical care for her young son is truly inspirational. Coupled with her gold team medal for the Unified Team at the 1992 Games, it also meant that she won an Olympic medal for a second country in her Olympic career, a rare occurrence. (American runner Bernard Lagat, who won medals for Kenya in 2000 and 2004 can do the same in the 5,000 meters later this week.)

Oksana Chusovitina is certainly not the only Olympian to travel an unlikely path to multiple medals. Here are some other notable athletes who either earned medals for multiple countries, won in both the Summer and Winter Games, or excelled in sport and art. (Yes, there used to be medals for stuff like city planning.)

Medals at Both the Summer and Winter Games

Picking up medals at both the Summer and Winter Games is obviously tough, since there's not much overlap between the two sets of events. Since the introduction of the Winter Games in 1924, four people have managed to medal at both sets of Games. (Five if you count Gillis Grafstrom, who won a figure skating medal at the final Summer Games to host the event in 1920 and then medaled in figure skating at the first three Winter Games.)

clara.jpgClara Hughes
Hughes, a Canadian, picked up cycling bronze medals in both the road race and the time trial at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. By 2002 she had returned to speed skating, her original sport, and wrangled a bronze in the 5000 meters at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Hughes added a gold in the 5000 meters and silver in the team pursuit at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. She's the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the Winter and Summer Games.

Christa Luding
There was a precedent for Hughes' cycling-speed skating double play, though. East German skater Luding was an absolute terror on the ice during a career that saw her rack up gold medals at both the 1984 Games in Sarajevo and the 1988 Games in Calgary. She also picked up a silver medal in Calgary. In 1988, Luding hopped on her bike and won a silver medal in the track cycling sprint at the Summer Games in Seoul to become the only person to ever win summer and winter medals in the same year. Not content with these achievements, Luding then returned to the ice to win a speed skating bronze medal at the 1992 Games in Albertville.

Jacob Tullin Thams
Norwegian Thams grabbed the gold in the individual large hill ski jump at the 1924 Games in Chamonix as part of an illustrious ski jumping career that also included a gold in the same event at the 1926 World Championships. He eventually turned his attentions to sailing, though, and at the 1936 Games in Berlin won silver as part of Norway's eight-meter yachting team.

Eddie Eagan
Although Eagan was born to a poor family in Denver, he managed to use his smarts to make it through college at Yale, law school at Harvard, and later study at Oxford. If anyone called Eagan a nerd, though, he could have made them regret it; he also won a boxing gold as a light heavyweight at the 1920 Games in Antwerp. Eagan became a successful lawyer, but his athletic itch persisted. He took up bobsleigh racing and won a gold as part of the American four-man team at the 1932 Games at Lake Placid. He's still the only person to win a gold medal in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Medal Winners in Sports and Arts

From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics weren't solely the home of athletic struggles; competitors also vied for the medals in various artistic disciplines. Artists could earn medals for their sports-inspired works of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The art competition eventually met its doom when organizers realized the artists were professionals and thus not part of the amateur spirit of the Games, but two men managed to snag medals for both sports and arts before an art exhibit replaced the competitive scoring.

"¢ Russian-born, England-based American Walter Winans picked up a pair of medals at the 1908 and 1912 Games as a marksman in the running deer event. He was also serious about sculpture and took home a gold medal in 1912 for his bronze statuette of a horse entitled "An American Trotter."

"¢ Hungarian swimmer Alfred Hajos also pulled off this double. He won two swimming golds at the first modern Games in 1896, and dropped one of the better quips in Olympic history: when the crown prince of Greece asked Hajos where he learned to swim so well, the medalist pithily responded, "In the water." After the Games, Hajos returned to Hungary where he was a dominant track and field athlete and a forward on the national soccer team. He also learned about architecture, the discipline in which he and fellow Hungarian Dezso Lauber won a silver medal in town planning at the 1924 Games in Paris.

Medals for Multiple Countries

chen-jing.jpgNot many other athletes besides Oksana Chusovitina have won medals for multiple countries while their original nation continued fielding teams. One particularly impressive example is Chen Jing, who dominated women's table tennis at the 1988 Games for China, winning both the individual gold and the silver in doubles. She then switched her team allegiances to Chinese Taipei and won a silver in Atlanta and a bronze in Sydney for her new squad.

We'll be watching later this week to see if former Kenyan medalist Bernard Lagat can join the club as he runs the 5,000 meters for the United States.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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August 19, 2008 - 1:36am
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