Past Olympic Stars: Where Are They Now?

5 years ago

Being an athlete of Olympic caliber is an all-consuming task. For many, the Olympic Games is a culmination of years (if not decades) of sacrifice and training for that one moment in time. Singular focus is what it takes. Then in an instant, a career, an entire lifetime, and then that identity is over. It just ends. Sometimes with gold and a fanfare, other times with simply memories and the honor of having competed. Then what?

Unlike professional athletes in the big money sports, most Olympians don't have a bank account to show for all their hard work beyond whatever sponsorship monies they have been able to land. Let's face it, even big money doesn't make the transition to retirement any easier. So many high-ticket players simply blow the money and end up cash-strapped used-to-be's, which is why franchising is becoming a popular post-retirement career for professional and other elite athletes.

Retirement can be an emotionally charged time for anyone, but even more so for elite athletes who have to go from stadiums of cheering fans to the solitude of career transition at a much earlier age, usually decades before traditional retirement. Going from top of your sport to retired carries a heavy mental price, one that many athletes don't plan for but one which no one can avoid. Confusing who you are with what you do can be even more tricky for athletes, many of who have trained since they were young children. With the sport as a core part of childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, the lines between who you are and what you do can be blurred even more. A recent Forbes article looked at how star athletes deal with retirement and talks about the magnitude of the mental transition:

Too often people confuse who they are with what they do; or unknowingly fall in love with their job or aspect of work life that can’t love them back.  In doing so, they set themselves up for disappointment and unnecessary struggles in the early phases of retirement. Unlike a simple break-up, retirement can result in a full-blown divorce, leaving those who aren’t prepared lost and misguided.

Depression, addiction, weight gain, and even suicide can plague the elite athlete. After all, they go from burning thousands of calories a day in training to regular everyday living. Unless a new passion is rekindled, the limbo can last a long time.

In this New York Times piece on life after the Games for five former Olympians (Tara Lipinski, Sasha Cohen, Sarah Hughes, Jeremy Bloom, and Joey Cheek ), Bloom summed up the post-sport life as:

“My biggest fear of quitting sports was — what’s next?” Bloom said. “What the hell is my life going to look like now? I worried that I was going to be worthless to society.”

Let's take a look at five famous female Olympians and where they are now ...

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Mary Lou Retton

Arguably, Mary Lou Retton is one of the most-loved and famous female athletes ever. At the 1984 Olympic Games, she became the darling of the United States when she became the first American woman ever to win a gold in gymnastics and win the All-Around gold. After retiring from competitive gymnastics in 1986, she has served as a television commentator for NBC and affiliates and made appearances on television and in movies. She is a motivational speaker, corporate spokesperson and travels the world as a "Fitness Ambassador". She shows her entrepreneurial side with Mary Lou's Weigh a common sense path to lasting health.

Credit Image: © Rick Mackler/

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Lisa Leslie

One of the most recognized faces in women's basketball history, Lisa Leslie was a member of the gold-winning U.S. Olympic teams in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. She is the first team sport athlete to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals. Her WNBA career is storybook, and she was the first woman to ever slam dunk in a professional game. Her career has transcended basketball almost since the beginning with her work as a model. After retiring from basketball in 2009, she has taken on new roles in business and leadership. In August 2011, she became co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks (professional franchise in the WNBA). She also launched the Lisa Leslie Basketball & Leadership Academy. As a current in-studio sports analyst for ABC, Turner, and FOX Sports Net, she will return to the 2012 Olympics as a commentator for NBC.

Credit Image: © Sonia Moskowitz/Globe Photos/

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Kristi Yamaguchi

America's darling on the ice, Kristi Yamaguchi's artistry and athleticism are iconic. Following her 1992 Olympic victory, Kristi founded the Always Dream Foundation to support the lives of children through educational and recreational initiatives and continues to be active with philanthropic efforts. She remained an active professional athlete, spending a decade touring with Stars on Ice and winning numerous professional competitions. During Dancing with the Stars' sixth season, she took home the mirror ball trophy proving her artistry and competitive spirit transcends sport. She shows her entrepreneurial side as an author of children books and producer of her own workout DVD. A dedicated mom and wife, she experienced the spouse perspective of athletic achievement when her husband Brett's NHL team won the Stanley Cup.

Credit Image: © Jeff Frank/

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Julie Foudy

Julie Foudy was a midfielder for the US women's national soccer team, winning an Olympic gold medal in 1996, silver in 2000, and gold again in 2004. Part of the "golden era" of women's soccer along with Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Joy Fawcett, her retirement in 2004 marked the end of this run in team history. Since that time, she has served as an on-air analyst for ABC and ESPN. She founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which helps young girls unlock their potential on the field and off. More than a "soccer camp", it teaches the fundamentals of leadership in sport and life.

Credit Image: © Anne Hiles/Icon SMI/

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Marion Jones

From Olympic star to retirement, prison, and back into the sports arena, Marion Jones' story is different than most but reflects the immense pressures, challenges, and potential pitfalls facing so many athletes. In 2000, she became the first woman ever to win five medals at one Olympics. In 2007, she was stripped of those medals after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs (despite earlier denying these accusations). She spent six months in a federal prison for lying to officials. In 2010, she returned to the sports arena as a member of the Tulsa Shock in the WNBA, but her bid to return to a sports career ended in 2011 when she was cut from the team. She created a program called "Take a Break" to give back and help people avoid mistakes that cause too big a price.

Credit Image: © Nancy Kaszerman/

In just a short while, another round of elite Olympians will hang up their uniforms for good. What will their future hold? It is in their hands to create a new chapter of success.

Paula Gregorowicz is a life and business strategist who helps women that want to live their true calling by building a successful service based business without the all the self-doubt, struggle, and overwhelm.
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