For the Olympians participating in this year’s Winter Games the goal is the same as it is in any Olympics. Get the gold. No matter the sport, no matter the event, the point is to win that bright yellow medal.
That mantra “get the gold” is so thoroughly ingrained into the popular lexicon that it has come to mean pursuing anything with the intention of being the best. Gold medals are a metaphor not just for gaining some success, but for reaching the absolute pinnacle of a field.
So let’s say an Olympian in these Sochi games “goes for the gold,” not metaphorically, of course. And despite the overwhelming odds that have been stacked against them since they first laced up a skate/hopped on a bobsled/curled that curling thing, they get that gold. The Olympian reached the absolute pinnacle of success.
For many Olympians, their turn in the national spotlight ends up being as short as their qualifying time. Success in the Olympics very rarely translates to lasting success in other arenas. Like child stars or fish left on the counter overnight, after a brief period of usefulness winning Olympians tend to get discarded. Some athletes who tended to have trouble initially translating multiple gold into big moneymaking ventures were swimmer Matt Bianchi and track and field dynamo Carl Lewis.
But that’s not always the case. There have been a few winners to find success past their otherwise valuable chunk of metal.
America’s best swimmer not named Michael Phelps, Spitz dominated the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics, setting multiple world records on his way to winning eleven Olympic medals, nine of them gold. Spitz abruptly retired from the sport at age 22 to get into show business.
He found modest success, notably as a commentator, endorsement machine, and pin-up. Unique among Olympian swimmers with his Selleck-esque mustache, a poster of the swimmer wearing his nine golds became one of the best-selling posters in the 1970s.
Another good-looking swimmer, Lochte was tailor-made for endorsements. Specifically, he was really, really, ridiculously good-looking. While a successful Olympian like Carl Lewis had immense trouble finding sponsors on account of his flamboyancy, his brash attitude, or his skin color (opinions vary) Lochte was as harmless and pretty as a pony.
Lochte reportedly made over $2.3 million in endorsements in 2012 alone.
Many people forget that the reality star was once considered one of the finest American decathlon athletes in history. Jenner won the gold in 1976, and became an icon for his famous “hero pose” following his win.
From there was able to parlay his success into a middling television career in the 80s and 90s before exploding via reality television, first on shows like The Apprentice and later with his stepchildren in the smash Keeping up with the Kardashians.
This Russian American gymnast might have one just a single gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, but she has parlayed her athletic career into a general career of, well, "fame." That means she does the requisite modeling for BCBG and others, and a bit of acting to boot, appearing in episodes of Gossip Girl and Hellcats. In 2010 Liukin launched a clothing line called Supergirl, targeted at young female gymnasts.
Special Mention: The Williams Sisters
Although Venus and Serena WIlliams were already established stars by the time they went to the Olympics, it's not widely known that they also won gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in doubles. The WIlliams sisters, of course, are now some of the most recognizable faces in tennis, and some of the best known athletes in the world. All in all, the sister shave won four gold medals, and remain incredibly popular spokeswomen for a variety of athletic companies.
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