Olympians Who Found a Late Second Wind

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

Olympians Who Found a Late Second Wind

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    Lauryn Williams has won Olympic medals as a sprinter and a bobsledder.
    Lauryn Williams has won Olympic medals as a sprinter and a bobsledder.Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Think about how hard it is to make an Olympic team. In order to have a chance at making the team, an athlete has to be elite, always among the best of the best.

    It takes years of practice and years of competition to have a chance to make the team, and then it comes down to a performance in an event like the Olympic Trials to determine eligibility.

    This is a nearly impossible goal, and few end up making it. They are clearly very special athletes.

    Now take it one step further: athletes who make the Olympic team in two different sports. Talk about a pipedream.

    These are the rarest of of the rare, but they do exist. Some compete in two different summer events, some compete in two different winter events, while others have competed in one of each. In this piece, we look at five athletes who have made their Olympic teams by competing in two different sports and winning medals in multiple disciplines.

Lauryn Williams, Sprinter and Bobsled

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    Lauryn Williams made the Olympic team as a sprinter on the United States track team in 2004 and 2008. She was quite accomplished in her field, and she won a silver medal in 2004 for her performance in the 100-meter dash.

    She also won a gold medal in 2012 in London as part of the 4 x 100-meter relay team.

    However, Williams was not quite satisfied to stop with three Olympic performances and two Olympic medals. She turned to the bobsled in 2013 after a nagging injury left her unable to compete at a high level as a sprinter any more. 

    Williams had spoken with hurdler Lolo Jones, who had given her the idea of trying to use her speed on the bobsled run. She had one practice session and then finished third in her first competition.

    She picked up established star Elana Thompson as a partner, and the two went on to combine for a silver medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It was a stunning performance, and Williams and her partner were just one-tenth of a second from winning the gold medal.

Rebecca Romero, Cycling and Rowing

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    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    Rebecca Romero of Great Britain proved to be a dynamic rower. After making the British Olympic team in 2004, she was good enough to win a silver medal in the Athens Olympics.

    Romero was stalled by a back injury after that, and she had to give up her rowing career. However, she did not give up on her athletic career.

    Romero quickly took up cycling thereafter, and she became quite proficient. She was so accomplished that she made the British cycling team in 2008, and her event was the individual pursuit. She shocked the world when she won the gold medal in this 3-kilometer event.

    She was the first Brit to win medals in two sports at the Summer Olympics.

Clara Hughes, Cycling and Speed Skating

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    Frank Gunn/Associated Press

    Clara Hughes is among the most prolific multi-sport Olympic athletes of all time.

    Between her Summer Olympic pursuits in 1996 on the bicycle and her Winter Olympic efforts in 2002, 2006 and 2010 in speed skating, Hughes came away with six Olympic medals.

    This puts her in a category with American Johnny Weissmuller and Norway's Johan Grottumsbraten, who also won six medals in multiple sports. Weissmuller would become much more famous for his film work as Tarzan than for his Olympic efforts as a swimmer and a water polo star. Grottumsbraten earned his medals in cross country skiing and Nordic combined.

    Hughes earned two bronze medals for Canada in cycling before she earned four more in three different Olympic competitions as a speed skater.

Eric Flaim, Speed Skating and Short-Track Speed Skating

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Speed skating and short track are two different pursuits. While they are similar and require tremendous athletic skill, short track is far more rough-and-tumble and is dependent on expert tactics.

    Traditional speed skating is all about form and athletic skill. Eric Flaim of the United States excelled at both disciplines.

    Flaim won the silver medal for the United States in the 1988 Winter Olymp in the 1,500 meter event. He also skated in the 1,000-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter events, but he did not earn a medal in any of them.

    He also competed in 1992 in Albertville, France, but he was shut out in three events.

    When the Winter Olympics continued in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Flaim was a short-track skater. He picked up a silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay.

    He also competed in Nagano, Japan in 1998, but he was unable to make the medal stand.

Karch Kiraly, Volleyball and Beach Volleyball

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    Karch Kiraly is considered to be one of the greatest American volleyball athletes of all-time. He helped propel the sport to prominence in 1984, when he led the U.S. team to a gold medal at the Los Angeles games.

    Four years later, Kiraly was once again at the forefront as the Americans won gold again in Seoul, Korea.

    Kiraly was back at it again in 1996, when beach volleyball was introduced as an Olympic sport. He teamed with Kent Steffes in Atlanta, and the pair brought home the first Olympic gold in that sport.

    While he is retired as a player, he is currently coach of the United States women's volleyball team.

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