The Post-Olympic Lives of 15 Great Athletes

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Getty Images

Olympic athletes are undoubtedly the best in the world at what they do, but unfortunately "what they do" isn't always all that lucrative once their performances start to slip and endorsements fade. Some athletes choose to stick with their sports in a coaching capacity, while others seek jobs far removed from their Olympic pasts. Here are a few notable examples of summer Olympians who veered away from their sporting careers:

Johnny Weismuller

Olympic Moment: Won a total of five gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Games as part of an undefeated amateur swimming career. Also dabbled in water polo, in which he won a bronze at the 1924 Games.
Post-Games Career: Became an early film star by playing Tarzan in twelve films. (He invented the "Tarzan yell" as we know it.) Weismuller actually took over the role from a fellow Olympian, silver medalist shot putter Herman Brix.

Jesse Owens

Olympic Moment: Upstaging Hitler by destroying the field at the 1936 Games in Berlin.
Post-Games Career: Owens spent some time traveling the country showing off his athletic prowess, but he also ran a dry cleaning business, worked as a gas station attendant, and later traveled as a speaker and goodwill ambassador for the U.S.

George S. Patton

Olympic Moment: Finishing fifth in the first-ever Olympic modern pentathlon, although he might have finished first if not for a scoring controversy in the pistol event.
Post-Games Career: Commanding American troops during World War II as celebrated general "Old Blood and Guts."

Dick Fosbury

Olympic Moment: Won the high jump and set a new Olympic record at the 1968 Mexico City games with his revolutionary back-first "Fosbury Flop."
Post-Games Career: Finished his engineering degree and now owns a civil engineering company in Idaho.

Babe Didrikson

Olympic Moment: Grabbing three track and field medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Games.
Post-Games Career: Took up golf on something of a lark, then became the greatest female golfer of all time. She's still the only woman to ever make the cut at a men's PGA Tour event.

Jerzy Pawlowski

Olympic Moment: Winning five fencing medals for Poland over four Games from 1956 to 1968.
Post-Games Career: Used his status as Poland's top sports start to serve as a spy for the C.I.A. His double life fell apart in 1975, and he spent 10 years in prison.

Kerri Strug

Olympic Moment: Clinching the women's team gold for the American squad with a vault at the 1996 gymnastic finals despite an injured foot.

Post-Games Career: Has worked as an elementary school teacher and later as an employee of the Treasury Department and Justice Department.

Amy Van Dyken

Olympic Moment: Won a total of six gold medals in swimming at the Atlanta and Sydney Games.
Post-Games Career: Van Dyken has served as a sideline reporter for the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks and performed in The Vagina Monologues. She's married to former NFL punter Tom Rouen.

Chris Brasher

Olympic Moment: Ran his way to gold at the 1956 Melbourne Games in the 3000-meter steeplechase.
Post-Games Career: Became a successful sports journalist and rose to become Head of General Features for the BBC before helping to develop the sport of orienteering and making millions in sporting goods. Brasher later co-founded the London Marathon.

Amanda Beard

Olympic Moment: Picked up seven Olympic medals in a swimming career that spanned three Games.

Post-Games Career: Has dabbled in modeling (including an appearance in Playboy) and served as a correspondent for Fox's The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Recently made headlines for claiming she did not want to date Michael Phelps.

Dave Johnson

Olympic Moment: Starred in Reebok's memorable "Dan vs. Dave" commercial campaign prior to the 1992 Games, then won a bronze in the decathlon at Barcelona. (Despite the ad blitz, Dan O'Brien failed to qualify for the Olympics that year.)
Post-Games Career: Johnson returned to Oregon and became an educator, serving as both a high school assistant principal and athletic director.

Kurt Angle

Olympic Moment: Took the gold in the 100 kg wrestling weight class at the 1996 Games.

Post-Games Career: Left the world of amateur wrestling for the glitz of professional wrestling and rang up multiple WWF/E titles.

Alexander Karelin

Olympic Moment: Winning three straight wrestling golds before American Rulon Gardner's stunning upset at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Post-Games Career: Found a prominent place in Russian politics and won election to the State Duma, or lower house of the legislature, in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Sebastian Coe

Olympic Moment: Won a total of four middle-distance running medals as a British Olympian at the 1980 and 1984 Games.
Post-Games Career: Spent five years in Parliament, then chaired London's successful bid to bring the 2012 Games to England.

Bruce Jenner

Olympic Moment: Winning the gold in the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Post-Games Career: Dabbled in film with the colossal bust Can't Stop the Music, a pseudo-biopic of the Village People. (Yes, really.) Later came back into the public eye on the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which follows the lives of Jenner, his wife, and his stepdaughters.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

Does the University of Florida Still Make Money Off Gatorade?

George Frey, Getty Images
George Frey, Getty Images

In September 1965, 10 freshmen players on the University of Florida's Gators football team agreed to let the school's kidney disease specialist, Robert Cade, assess their hydration levels during practices. He took urine samples. He interviewed athletes. He asked to take their rectal temperature during games.

The players agreed to all but the last request. In analyzing his results, Cade discovered that the wilting heat, coupled with a lack of hydration, resulted in subjects who were very low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, sometimes losing six to nine pounds of water per practice session—with some footballers having anecdotes of 15 to 20 pounds lost during games. Cade felt that players suffered from low blood volume and low blood sugar. Many, in fact, were being hospitalized after overexerting themselves without drinking enough water, traditionally seen as a way of building toughness in players. Those who remained on field were surely not playing up to their potential.

Cade mixed water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice, then ordered them to drink the solution to keep their bodies in balance. By 1967, the Gators were all consuming "Gatorade," and incidences of heat stroke fell sharply. The Gators secured a 9-2 record in 1966; the team became renowned for their renewed energy during the second half, and ignited a transformation in sports science. Decades later and backed by a massive promotional machine, Gatorade has permeated both professional sports and amateur athletics alike, replenishing electrolytes lost during physical activity. Roughly 632 million cases were sold in 2013 alone.

With the sports drink having been born on the Gators's playing field and invented by a University of Florida employee, it's not hard to see why both Cade's estate (he died in 2007) and the school get a percentage of royalties from sales, an agreement that's still in place today. But if they had their way, the university would be getting all of it.

A University of Florida coach is soaked in Gatorade by his players after a win
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

After Cade and his co-researchers finalized Gatorade’s formula, Cade approached the school's head of sponsored research to see if they wanted to come to an arrangement over the rights to the drink (Cade wanted $10,000) and determine if they wanted to try and sell it to a national distributor. According to Cade, University of Florida (UF) officials weren't interested, so he struck a deal with beverage maker Stokely Van-Camp in 1967.

Stokely's offer was for Cade and his cohorts—now known as the Gatorade Trust—to receive a $25,000 cash payment, a $5000 bonus, and a five-cent royalty on each gallon of Gatorade sold. When UF realized that they had been shortsighted in assessing the brand's mass market appeal—and that they were missing out on profits—they allegedly told Cade that the drink belonged to them.

"Go to hell," Cade responded, a statement that kicked off several years of litigation.

While Cade was a university employee, funds for his work actually came from the government—specifically, the Department of Health. He also managed to avoid signing an agreement solidifying his inventions as school property. For these reasons, and because both sides anticipated an endless and costly legal jiu-jitsu match in their futures, the two accepted a federal ruling in 1972. The Gatorade Trust would continue to receive their royalties, and the school would take 20 percent of the disbursement.

Initially, that meant one cent for every gallon of Gatorade sold, a fraction of the five cents owed to the Trust. In September 1973, following the first full year of the agreement, UF made $115,296 in royalties and earmarked the funds for kidney research and marine science.

Gatorade cups are shown stacked in a locker room
J. Meric, Getty Images

That's a considerable sum, but it's nothing compared to what poured out in the decades to come. When Stokely Van-Camp was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983, they kicked off a heavy promotional campaign that highlighted Gatorade in commercials and sponsored teams. Coaches began getting doused with jugs full of Gatorade following big victories. When PepsiCo bought Quaker for $13.4 billion in 2000, they leveraged their marketing muscle to further engender the brand.

Consequently, both the Gatorade Trust and UF have profited immensely. As of 2015, the Trust had earned well over $1 billion in royalties, with 20 percent, or about $281 million, going to UF. The five-cent per gallon formula has been replaced by a percentage: between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent depending on how much Gatorade is sold annually, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell, with the University taking a fifth of that. The funds have been invested in the school's Genetics Institute, the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine, and to help disperse seed money for grants.

The school naturally has an affinity for the stuff, but that can occasionally come into conflict with other marketing deals. In 2016, the University of Florida’s women's basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, which was sponsored by Powerade, a competing sports drink made by Coca-Cola. As a compromise, the players dumped their Gatorade into Powerade bottles and cups. The beverage born on campus—one that's netted them nearly $300 million to date—always comes first.

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