From most exhausted to best dancer, we crown this year’s most memorable athletes…
Most Impressive Dad Bod
The swimmer who is widely regarded as G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), Michael Phelps posed topless on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine with all 28 of his medals for the first time. And while his toned physique is more than impressive, next year he’s going to have to fight for his title when his former teammate Ryan Lochte becomes a dad for the first time.
Olympic medalist gymnast? Check. Winner of “Dancing with the Stars”? Check. Trained with the New York City Ballet? Check. Laurie Hernandez has done it all in the dance department. At only 16 years old, the two time Olympic medalist — who started off doing ballet when she was younger — visited the famed dancers in New York to learn a scene from the company’s holiday favorite, Nutcracker. While there she admitted that her only dance experience before DWTS was gymnastics floor routines but that was more about posing and less about actual dancing.
Most Inspiring Story
Talk about full circle. Five years ago when Michelle Konkoly was a freshman swimmer at Georgetown University she tried to open a stuck window in her dorm and fell five stories in a freak accident. The fall left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down and fighting to walk again. Fast-forward to this past summer — where she took home four medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio — and the 24-year-old graduate was back at Georgetown University and up on stage to present an award during the Team USA Awards in September.
Even though 2016 was marked by some tragic Olympic losses, for two Team USA athletes it will be a year that is remembered with happy memories. For Olympic rowers Katelin Snyder and Nareg Guregian (and the only engaged couple on the 2016 Olympic team), it was the year they qualified and competed in their first Olympic Games — with Snyder bringing home gold — and the year they tied the knot. The couple, who had been dating for three years, said their “I do’s” in Florida four months after the Rio Olympics.
Most Likely To Get Recognized
As a fencer, most people don’t know what Dagmara Wozniak looks like. Since her equipment covers her from head to toe, it is hard to stand out. But nobody could miss the purple hair that sticks out of her fencing mask and over the back of her Team USA uniform. The new hue was a change she tried out before Rio but it might have served as her good luck charm as she failed to qualify in 2008, failed to medal in 2012, but got a team bronze medal in Rio.
Weddings are always joyful but the happiest wedding ever has to go to slalom canoeist Casey Eichfeld, who wed his longtime girlfriend Sarah Anderson over the holidays at Disney World. The couple — who live in Charlotte, North Carolina — surprised guests with a destination wedding that featured a reception at Epcot and a “Beauty and the Beast”-themed cake.
Most Likely To Buck Traditions
Olympic gymnast Madison Kocian — who is going to school to become a pediatrician — is surely a very popular girl at UCLA. While it’s not uncommon to see an Olympic medalist roaming the halls at your school (especially UCLA with three Team USA medalists from Rio as new freshmen), the same can’t be said for Olympic gymnasts in general. Gymnasts tend to peak in their sport at a younger age, and many Olympic gymnasts prefer to focus on their sport over school, especially once they’ve gotten a taste of the rings. In fact, Laurie Hernandez had a scholarship to the University of Florida and chose to give it up to go pro instead.
Most Likely To Do Anything For Some Good Food
If you follow Maya DiRado on Instagram, you know she is a foodie by the mere fact that delicious-looking edibles are the most photographed things on her page. So you can understand why the Stanford grad — who won four medals at her first and only Olympics — decided to quit swimming and the strict diet and training regimen that came with it after Rio. The 23-year-old instead started a job with an elite management consulting firm in Atlanta this past fall, but said that even though she won’t be going for gold in Tokyo in 2020, she still plans to go as a spectator, and as a foodie looking for some good sushi!
Most athletes opted to take a vacation after the Rio Games, and especially those who had won gold medals. But most athletes are not Gwen Jorgensen and Tatyana McFadden. The Olympic triathlete and Paralympic track and field athlete both chose to compete in the New York City Marathon not long after coming home from the Games. Jorgensen won gold in Rio and then 71 days later placed 14th at her marathon debut. McFadden won six medals in Rio and then six weeks later went on to win the wheelchair division of the Chicago Marathon, and then the NYC Marathon after that (for the fifth time!).
Most Diverse Entrepreneur
Having won many major championships, Bubba Watson has an impressive sporting resume. And it looks like he wants to also have an enviable business resume, too. The owner of Bubba’s Sweet Spot, an ice cream and candy shop in Pensacola, bought a car dealership not far from his other business where he grew up in Florida. As a self-described car lover — he’s bought 37 cars in 12 years — the pro golfer was the first customer at his new dealership, Sandy and Bubba’s Milton Chevrolet, buying a custom-designed truck with LED lights and a hologram wrap.