11 People You May Not Have Known Were Olympians

iStock
iStock

For many, competing at the Olympics is the dream of a lifetime. But these accomplished athletes found success both inside and far beyond the Olympic stadium, as movie stars, politicians, famed generals, and Darth Vader's stunt double.

1. DR. BENJAMIN SPOCK

 Dr Benjamin Spock, noted for his ideas on child-rearing, on a visit to Britain.
Keystone, Getty Images

Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903-1998), author of the bestselling Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946), was the authority on child rearing in Baby Boomer America. But long before he became a pop culture icon, Spock rowed with Yale's crew team and made the men's eights team for the 1924 Paris Olympics. He won a gold medal at age 21 and continued rowing for the rest of his life—even placing third in a 4-mile contest at age 84.

2. HILLARY WOLF

Hillary Wolf of the United States moves in for the attack against San Hui Kye of Korea in the Womens 52 kg Judo match at the Sydney Exhibition Centre during the Sydney Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Andy Lyons, Getty Images

When she wasn't playing a teasing sister in 1990's Home Alone ("Kevin, you're completely helpless!"), Hillary Wolf was honing her judo skills. The child actress, who began practicing martial arts when she was 7, quit acting full time in 1991 to focus on her fighting career. The move paid off: Wolf became a four-time U.S. national champion, and made it to both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games in Atlanta and Sydney, Australia.

3. JOHNNY WEISSMULLER

American actors Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984), the most famous actor to play Tarzan, was a star in the pool long before he hit the big screen. Before cementing his place in the Hollywood beefcake hall of fame, Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer who won five gold medals between the 1924 Paris and 1928 Amsterdam games (as well as a bronze with the men's water polo team). Playing Tarzan came naturally to him, he once said, because "there was swimming in it, and I didn't have much to say."

4. HAROLD T. SAKATA

Professional wrestler and actor Toshiyuki 'Harold' Sakata wearing a suit and bowler hat, walking down a street in London, March 10th 1965.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Harold T. Sakata's (1920-1982) steel rimmed hat and karate skills made him dangerous as the memorable James Bond villain Oddjob in 1964's Goldfinger, but in real life the Hawaiian-born athlete was a professional wrestler and weightlifter. He scored a silver medal for weightlifting at the 1948 London Olympics, years before Hollywood producers "discovered" him in the 1960s after catching one of his wrestling matches on television.

5. AND 6. CAMERON AND TYLER WINKLEVOSS

Oxford's Winklevoss twins, Tyler Winklevoss and Cameron Winklevoss of the USA (centre right) in action during Tideaway Week on The River Thames ahead of the Xchanging University Boat Race on March 30, 2010 in London, England.
Richard Heathcote, Getty Images

Perhaps most famous for being bitcoin billionaires and for suing Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss (known collectively as the Winklevoss twins) were also collegiate rowers at both Harvard and Oxford. In 2008, they competed in men's pair rowing at the Beijing Olympics, placing sixth overall.

7. SUMMER SANDERS

Summer Sanders attends the Woman's Day 8th Annual Red Dress Awards at Jazz at Lincoln Center on February 8, 2011 in New York City.
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images for Woman's Day

Summer Sanders spent four seasons sliming contestants on Nickelodeon's Figure It Out, but before getting gooey on national television, the host won four Olympic medals—including two gold—at the 1992 Summer games in Barcelona, Spain. Sanders retired from swimming when she was 22, paving the way for her future career as a game show host and sports commentator/reporter.

8. BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL

U.S. President George W. Bush shakes hands with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House.
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the former Colorado senator who served two terms from 1993 to 2005, became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years following his election in 1992. But long before he became interested in politics, Campbell served as captain of the first American judo team at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Unfortunately he tore his ACL in the second round, which ended his athletic career but allowed him to pursue his other interests, like jewelry-making.

9. GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON

August 1944: General George S Patton (1885-1945), Head of the 3rd Army, talks to Allied war correspondents in Normandy.
Keystone, Getty Images

General George S. Patton (1885-1945), the storied World War II officer who led the U.S. Third Army on the Western Front, was famous for his foul mouth, rousing speeches, and tenacious leadership. He was also a great athlete who placed fifth in the inaugural modern pentathlon (swimming, riding, fencing, running, shooting) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

10. BOB ANDERSON

A Star Wars lightsaber battle
STAR WARS © & TM 2015 LUCASFILM LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

You likely don't know Bob Anderson's (1922-2012) name or face, but you certainly know his light saber skills. The British stunt double performed Darth Vader's fighting scenes in both The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and competed as a pro fencer when he wasn't wearing an electronic helmet. Right before representing Britain at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, Anderson got his big break in the film industry when he was recruited to work as Errol Flynn's fencing coach and stunt double opponent in the 1953 film The Master of Ballantrae. He spent much of career as the go-to Hollywood sword-fighting choreographer, working on films like The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

11. TOM MCMILLEN

Former Maryland representative Tom McMillen and his wife,  Dr. Judith Niemyer.
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

Tom McMillen, the Democratic U.S. Congressman who represented Maryland's Fourth District from 1987 through 1993, left a towering legacy: Standing at 6 feet 11 inches, he's believed to be the tallest person to ever serve on Capitol Hill. Not surprisingly, McMillen is also a former professional basketball player who competed with the U.S. team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. It was possibly the most controversial gold-medal event ever—the final three seconds were replayed over and over again until the Soviet team went ahead by one point. The U.S. team refused to accept their silver medals.

American Girl Doll Introduces Joss Kendrick, First Doll With a Hearing Aid

Mattel
Mattel

Meet Joss Kendrick, the surf-loving cheerleader who never lets her hearing loss get in the way of her goals. She’s American Girl’s 2020 Girl of the Year, and its first doll to flaunt a hearing aid.

First revealed on Good Morning America, the brown-haired, brown-eyed character was born with hearing loss so wears a hearing aid in her right ear. She grew up surfing in Huntington Beach, California, and after her brother dared her to try out for her school's competitive cheer team, she discovered that riding waves isn’t her only passion.

american girl doll joss kendrick
Mattel

“American Girl has a rich legacy of creating timeless characters who encourage girls to reach new heights and discover who they’re meant to be,” American Girl general manager/president Jamie Cygielman said in a press release. “We’re proud to welcome Joss Kendrick, whose stories are sure to instill confidence and character in girls who are learning to think about the possibilities in their own lives.”

To develop the doll, Mattel-owned American Girl teamed up with Women’s Deaf Shortboard champion Crystal DaSilva, Gallaudet University’s Dr. Sharon Pajka, who specializes in portrayals of deaf characters in adolescent literature, and several other experts in surfing, competitive cheerleading, and hearing loss.

And to promote Joss, American Girl is partnering with 17-year-old surfer Caroline Marks, who will make her Olympic debut this summer on the first-ever U.S. Women’s Olympic surfing team.

“I’m so excited to be a part of the Joss launch and share her message that passion and hard work can really take a girl places—even to the Olympics,” Marks said in the press release.

american girl doll joss kendrick
Mattel

American Girl has also donated $25,000 to the Hearing Loss Association of America and will continue to promote the organization’s events and mission throughout the year.

You can shop Joss’s collection—including surf attire, cheer attire, two books, and a plush English bulldog named Murph—now on the American Girl site.

[h/t Good Morning America]

Simone Biles Just Became the Most Decorated Female Gymnast in History

Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br

Simone Biles became a household name when she won four gold medals in gymnastics at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, she has proven that she's still among the best in the sport's history. At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Biles won her 21st world champ medal—making her the most decorated female gymnast of all time, The New York Times reports.

The U.S. women's team competed at the event in order to retain their title of best in the world. Biles racked up the highest individual scores with her vault, balance beam, and floor routines, helping the U.S. earn an overall score of 172.330 points. The team bested Russia, the second-place team, by 5.801 points and won their seventh consecutive gold at a world competition or Olympics.

Biles was previously tied with Svetlana Khorkina for most world championship medals held by a female gymnast. She now holds the record for the women's sport, and is just two medals shy of male gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's record of 23.

At 22, Simone Biles has already made a historic impact on the sport. In 2013, she had a difficult new floor exercise move named after her—a double layout with a 180-degree turn at the end.

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER