Saturday, June 14, 2008

Athletes Turned Politicians (turned athletes?)

As a credential for public office, former Olympic athlete is fairly impressive. As a resume boost, it comes in right above nationally recognized former talk show host but below astronaut. Very little actually beats astronaut, as many a slain klingon will tell you. But just how many politicians can trace their roots to this most nationalistic of sporting enterprises? And just how hilariously stereotypical can their sports be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list (this is the sort of list I came up with given about an hour's prep time and unrestricted Google access), but it covers some of the more famous Olympians-turned-public servants... as well as some of the less famous but significantly more hilarious ones.

Bill Bradley: 1964 Gold Medalist in Basketball, US Senator from 1979-1997

Superior passing ability-- what I look for in a president.

It wasn't merely his exceptional record of service in the US Senate that gave this New Jersey Democrat the tenacity to oppose then Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for president. It was also the leadership ability he displayed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as the captain of the US Basketball team. Clearly.

Sebastian Coe, Baron Coe, KBE: 1980 and 1984 Gold Medalist in 1500m race and British Parliamentarian

Running strong for the Conservative Party

Sebastian Coe is not only a two-time Gold medalist in the 1500 meter race, not just the current Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and not just a former Conservative Parliamentarian, but also a Knight of the British Empire. How cool is that?

(FYI, this is why you read this blog. So that you don't have to look at sites like this. My eyes! My ears!)

Otto Jelinek: Figure Skated in 1960 Rome Olympics and Canadian Minister of Multiculturalism

Figure skating costumes were classier in black and white.

Otto and his sister Maria were the first to perform lifts with several rotations, a skill that would come in handy later-- I can only assume that the job of Minister of National Revenue requires some heavy lifting and... rotating?

...I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

Dawn Fraser: Eight-time Medalist and Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Also, Official Australian National Living Treasure.

If only you were this cool.

Dawn Fraser is a kick-ass woman. In her swimming career, she held 39 records, won eight medals (four gold, four silver), won gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, and was the first woman to break 1:00 in the 100 Freestyle (breaking her own previous record). In fact, she held the record for the 100 Freestyle for more than 15 years!

But, she was, as Wikipedia says, a larrikin. (Don't worry, I had to look it up too. According to Wikipedia, larrikinism is "a uniquely Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety.") The Australian Swimming Union put her under a ten-year swimming ban in 1965 after some antics at the Tokyo Olympics. (Great name for a rock band idea #507: Antics at the Tokyo Olympics.) She apparently marched in the Opening Ceremony against the wishes of organizers, wore a non-regulation swimsuit because it was more comfortable (scandal!), and allegedly climbed a flagpole in Emperor Hirohito's palace, stealing the Olympic flag. So... that's how to get you suspended from swimming for a decade, just in case you were wondering. Steal the Japanese Emperor's flag.

Embracing her early retirement, Fraser eventually went on to become a member of the New South Wales Parliament between 1988 and 1991. When the Olympics came to Sydney, of course, she was a torch bearer on the final stretch of the relay. It's really the least the Olympics could do to honor her true awesomeness.

Alexander Karelin: Russian Wrestler and Member of Russian Duma

Hey, I know, let's make this image reflect as much of the Cold War mentality as possible. You know, metaphorically speaking, Capitalist Pig-Dog.

Alexander Karelin competed in four Olympics, from the 1980s on. In fact, his tenure as Greco-Roman Wrestling Gold Medalist outlasted his country. Thanks in part to his trademark Karelin Lift (where he would literally lift and drop his 250+ pound opponent), he went undefeated from 1987 until 2000. He had to fit his Olympic training regime into his busy campaigning schedule in the lead up to the 2000 Sidney games.

Unstoppable and uniquely terrifying strongman and close personal friend of Vladimir Putin who can bash the opposition into the ground? Sounds about right for Russian politics.

And that's all for me, folks. Join us next time when we will present something else about the Olympics or something.

For further reading, look to:

USAToday, How to beat an Olympian incumbent: Unfortunately, despite the headline, the article offers little practical advise., Winning at Olympia: Rocking it old school style with Archibaldes, the Athenian politician and general who entered seven chariots in the 416 B.C. games. He basically swept, winning first, second, and either third or fourth places.

NYTimes, Bob Mathias, 75, Decathlete and Politician, Dies: The Gold medal winner and four term Congressman was "modest, clean-cut and self-confident, the epitome of the all-American boy." Well, duh. He was an OLYMPIAN. They do these kinds of things.

Ireland and the Spanish Civil War, Olympians and the War: Not one but two Irish Olympians who were also politicians fought and died in the Spanish Civil War. Hooray for awkwardly specific history! (One was named Eoin O'Duffy. It doesn't get any more Irish than that, seriously.)


Honorary Mention:

Imran Khan, Hot Pakistani Cricketer and Cancer Crusader

Look at that social conscience. Just look at it.

DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER: Cricket is not an Olympic sport. Deal. It's my blog, I do what I want!

Imran Khan was one of the hottest Cricket players alive, and not just for his superior bowling skills. Described by many as "the Brad Pitt of Cricket," he led Pakistan to win the 1992 World Cup title. After he retired from Cricket, he was ready to live a quiet life of philanthropy. Pakistani bureaucracy, however, had a different plan!

After facing barriers to setting up a cancer hospital for the poor, he was inspired to take up public duty. He formed the Tehriq-E-Insaaf (Movement of Justice Party) in 1997.

Also, as if that weren't awesome enough, he was recently freakin' incarcerated when Musharraf declared the State of Emergency. He was released, along with 3000 other political prisoners, in November last year.


Sources: BBC, Wikipedia, NYTimes,, CBC, and other various sites and stuff. (By the way, I have a fun game! Go back to my early posts here and trace the devolution of my citations. Bah. I need to stop posting right before bedtime when I've already closed all the tabs and I just plain can't be bothered.)


Emily said...

You're right, that USA Today article was pretty disappointing. So many potential extended metaphors, so little use of them...

I think Sean might have some competition in the form of Eoin O'Duffy. I mean, fascist founder of Fine Gael is not quite as good as train-blower-upper from the IRA, but when you add in the Olympics, the Spanish Civil War, and ye gods that NAME, who could resist...?

Don said...


May I suggest a link related to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games?

Our site:

Title: Beijing Olympics

Please let me know if you want a link back.
Many thanks for your reply.

Best Regards,