Lawrence Okoye And Eight Other Track Stars Who Crossed Over To Different Sports
The Brit isn't the first track star to try something new
Lawrence Okoye has never played football, but that didn’t stop the San Francisco 49ers from signing the Olympic discus finalist as an undrafted free agent this week. The defending NFC champions plan to train the 21-year-old former rugby player to become a defensive lineman after the 6-foot-6, 304-pound Briton impressed scouts with his vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-5) at the combine. He’s not the first Olympic athlete to make the jump to another sport—but it won’t take much for him to be among the most successful.
1. Herb Washington
Track cred: Four-time All-American, world record holder in 50- and 60-yard dashes
Pro career: Oakland A’s (1974-75)
One of A’s owner Charlie Finley’s many novel ideas — including two-tone uniforms, white shoes and orange baseballs — was the signing of Washington, a world class sprinter, as a “designated runner.” He played less than two full seasons in Oakland, swiping 31 bags (including 17 of 21 at one point), and won a World Series ring in 1974. He finished with 31 stolen bases and zero career plate appearances, even turning down a chance to pinch hit because — as he said in a 1993 retrospective for Sports Illustrated — “I’d have lost my significance.”
2. Bob Hayes
Track cred: 100m gold medalist (1964 Olympics)
Pro career: Wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys (1965-74) and San Francisco 49ers (1975)
The standard for track-to-gridiron success was set by “Bullet Bob,” who broke the world record in the 100 meters with a time of 10.06 at the 1964 Olympics and was later drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with a future draft pick, which allowed them to take a player before his college eligibility was over. The wide receiver played 10 NFL seasons, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2009 and remains the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.
3. Jimmy Hines
Track cred: 100m gold medalist (1968 Olympics)
Pro career: Wide receiver, Miami Dolphins (1968-69) and Kansas City Chiefs (1970)
The first sprinter to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters — he ran a 9.95 at the Mexico City Olympics — Hines was taken in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in the 1968 NFL Draft. But after spending his entire rookie season in the practice squad (and earning the nickname “Oops” for his lack of ability), the Texas Southern product appeared in 10 games with the Dolphins in 1969, catching two passes for 23 yards and rushing once for seven yards. After a one-game stint with the Chiefs in 1970, he was finished.
4. Glenn Davis
Track cred: 400m hurdles gold medalist (1956 and ’60 Olympics), 4x400m relay gold medalist (1960 Olympics)
Pro career: Wide receiver, Detroit Lions (1960-61)
Arguably the greatest all-around athlete in track and field history, Davis won gold medals in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1956 and ’60 Olympics and appeared on the June 27, 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated. He later played two seasons with the Lions, but made just 10 catches for 132 yards.
5. Bob Mathias
Track cred: Decathlon gold medalist (1948 and ’52 Olympics)
Pro career: Running back, drafted by Redskins after leading Stanford to Rose Bowl but passed on pro career
Mathias (nice shirt) won gold in the decathlon at the 1948 and ’52 Olympics, leading Stanford to a Rose Bowl appearance in between. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1953 but never played an NFL game, later entering a career in politics and serving four terms as a U.S. Congressman.
6. Torsten Voss
Track cred: Decathlon silver medalist (1988 Olympics)
Pro career: Three-time bobsled world champion (1995-97)
The East German decathlete won the world title in 1987 and Olympic silver in ’88 before switching over to bobsleigh as a pusher for Harald Czudaj and Wolfgang Hoppe and winning three championship medals from ’95 through ’97.
7. Walt Davis
Track cred: High jump gold medalist (1952 Olympics)
Pro career: Forward/center, Philadelphia Warriors (1953-58) and St. Louis Hawks (1958)
The Texas native overcame polio and the inability to walk for three years to win a gold medal in the high jump at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Upon his return, Davis was selected in the second round of the 1952 NBA Draft, averaging 4.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in five pro seasons.
8. Lolo Jones
Track cred: 11-time All-American and four-time U.S. Indoor champion
Pro career: Mixed team bobsled gold medalist (2013 World Championship)
The three-time NCAA titlist was a breakthrough superstar at the 2008 and ’12 Olympics despite not winning a medal. She’s since joined the U.S. bobsled team as a brakeman, winning gold in the mixed team event at this year’s World Championships with an eye on Sochi in 2014.