MULTI-SPORT olympians

A few days ago I posted about athletes who competed at both the Summer and Winter Olympics – very rare birds. But what about those athletes who have competed in 2 different sports at the Olympics, although not necessarily at the Summer and Winter Olympics? How often has that occurred.

Here we must be careful in discussing sports and disciplines. The IOC recognizes both sports and disciplines, with disciplines being considered a sub-group within a sport. The best examples are swimming, diving, water polo, and artistic swimming (formerly synchronized swimming), which the IOC considers disciplines within the sport of aquatics; and skiing, with separate disciplines labelled cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and snowboarding. There are several other sports that also have separate disciplines under their purview.

We basically consider disciplines as separate sports in the cases above and a few other cases, such as volleyball and beach volleyball. So, when athletes compete in two or more “sports” at the Olympics, it becomes important to classify them either as 1) related sports, or 2) distinctly different sports (DDS). DDS are not necessarily those that the IOC labels as separate sports. We consider fencing and modern pentathlon, swimming and triathlon, or biathlon and cross-country skiing to be related sports, among others, since the action of one is included in the other sport.

Now, given that primer, there have been 1,004 Olympians compete in 2 different sports at the Olympics, by our definitions. Of these 360 competed in DDS. Of the 1,004, 77 athletes have actually competed in 3 different sports at the Olympics, and 6 athletes appeared in 4 different sports.

Of the 6 athletes competing in 4 different sports, only 3 could be considered to have competed in DDS, and all of those were in 1896. Carl Schuhmann (GER) competed in athletics, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling, as did Launceston Elliott (GBR); while Viggo Jensen (DEN) appeared in athletics, gymnastics, shooting, and weightlifting.

Of the 77 athletes competing in 3 different sports, only 16 athletes can be considered to have appeared in DDS. These were all men and the last time it happened was in 1928, when Philippe Van Volcksom competed in ice hockey, rowing, and speed skating, although I guess one could argue that speed skating and ice hockey have some features in common.

What are the sports that most commonly doubled up? There have been 186 different combinations of multi-sport participation at the Olympics. Looking at all sports, including related sports, here are the most common:

Swimming/Water Polo154
Biathlon/Cross-Country Skiing93
Cross-Country Skiing/Nordic Combined87
Nordic Combined/Ski Jumping57
Fencing/Modern Pentathlon49
Cross-Country Skiing/Nordic Combined/Ski Jumping31
Beach Volleyball/Volleyball19
Alpine Skiing/Cross-Country Skiing10
Speedskating/Short-Track Speedskating10

No surprise there with swimming and water polo leading the way, but if you look at that list, we would only classify ATH/BOB, ATH/GYM, and ATH/TOW as DDS. Here is what the list looks like, if we limit ourselves to the DDS only:

Cross-Country Skiing/Cycling8
Athletics/Cross-Country Skiing5

Have any of these athletes actually won medals in 2 or more different sports? Yes, of course they have. It has happened 86 times at the Olympics, with 33 of those occurring in DDS.

Unique among these athletes is Franz Kugler, who won medals in 3 different sports. He is often listed as Frank Kungler in earlier sources, including ours, although we have now discovered his full, correct name and vital dates. Kugler was a German when he competed at the Olympics in 1904, although he is listed by the IOC as from the USA because he represented the St. Louis Southwest Turnverein. He is the only Olympian to win medals in 3 Olympic sports. He won a silver medal in heavyweight wrestling, 2 bronze medals in weightlifting, and a bronze medal in tug-of-war in 1904. Kugler became a US citizen in 1913 and died in St. Louis in 1952.

What about winning gold medals in 2 different sports? Yeah, that’s happened, too, actually 15 times with 4 athletes doing it in DDS. There were 2 women, Anfisa Reztsova (EUN/RUS/URS) who not only did it in biathlon and cross-country skiing, but while representing 2 different NOCs; and Esther Ledecka (SVK) who famously did it in 2018 in Alpine skiing and snowboarding, but both of those were in related sports.

The 4 athletes to win gold medals in DDS were as follows:

Eddie Eagan (USA)BOX-1920BOB-1932
Carl Schuhmann (GER)GYM-1896WRE-1896
Daniel Norling (SWE)GYM-1908/12EQU-1920
Morris Kirksey (USA)ATH-1920RUG-1920

And there you have it.

2 thoughts on “MULTI-SPORT olympians”

  1. I do not see Dave Gilman. Maybe I missed him. I’m sure you know of him.

    David Gilman is one of only two Americans who has competed for the United States in two sports at the Olympic Games, the other being Art Longsjo, Jr. . In addition to his Winter Olympic appearances in 1976 and 1984, Gilman competed in canoeing at the 1976 Olympics and also made the team in 1980, competing that year at the World Championships.

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