For many, competing at the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of an athlete's career. Competing at multiple Olympics, even more so. But what about participating at both editions of the Olympic Games?
In the history of the modern Olympics, only 128 athletes have taken part in both the Summer and Winter Games, and of those 128, just five have won a medal at both competitions.
Below, we look at the stories of these exceptional athletes driven by boundless Olympic passion.
Eddie Eagan (USA) – boxing & bobsleigh
Three weeks before the 1932 Winter Olympics were due to begin in Lake Placid, American lawyer and Olympic boxing gold medallist Eddie Eagan received a phone call from an old friend. It was Jay O'Brien of the United States Olympic Bobsleigh Committee: they needed one more person for the U.S. four-man bobsleigh team! Eagan agreed, telling his wife, "Guess what...I'm on the U.S. bobsleigh team now!"
Eagan, a World War II veteran, had previously competed at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, winning gold in the men's light-heavyweight boxing competition.
Prior to the Lake Placid Games, Eagan had never even stepped foot in a bobsleigh, but that ended up being a minor detail. Eagan and the US team won gold in the four-man competition, making the American the only person in the history of the Olympics to win gold at both the Summer and Winter Games in different disciplines.
Jacob Tullin Thams (NOR) - ski jumping & sailing
Jacob Tullin Thams was one of the best, if not the best, ski jumpers of the 1920s.
But living in Norway, Thams grew frustrated at the lack of ski jump-specific events in his home country, where the sport of Nordic combined (a sport that combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing) reigned supreme. While Thams was excellent in the air, he was a poor cross-country skier, and thus never won any Nordic combined events in his home country.
However, when the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix 1924 came around, Thams took his chance, winning gold in the individual large hill competition. In the process, Thams cemented his place in the history books as the first Olympic ski jumping gold medallist in history.
Four years later at the next Winter Games in St. Moritz, the Norwegian athletes were once again the ones to beat in the ski jumping competition. However, after the first round of jumping a dispute broke out over the rules, with some Swiss athletes accusing the Norwegians of cowardice. Thams seemingly took this personally, so instead of attempting a “normal” jump on his second attempt — which could have helped him secure another Olympic medal — he instead decided to try something a little more drastic. The Norwegian jumped an incredible 73 metres, which would have been a world record had he not failed to stick the landing. A potential podium place was lost, but no one could call him a coward!
Less than a decade later at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Summer Games, Thams, as a member of Norway’s 8-metre sailing team, won a silver medal.
Christa Luding-Rothenburger (GER) – speed skating & cycling
Holding a unique place among the quintet of Winter and Summer Olympic medallists — and all Olympians — is Christa Luding-Rothenburger: the first athlete to medal at the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year.
At Sarajevo 1984, the German won her first Olympic medal by taking gold in the women’s 500m speed skating competition. Four years earlier, Luding-Rothenburger had been convinced by her coach to take up cycling during the off-season. She proved so adept at the sport that in 1986 she won track cycling gold at the World Cycling Championships — but the real triumph was still to come.
In 1988, after winning gold in the 1000m and silver in the 500m speed skating competitions at the Calgary Winter Olympics, Luding-Rothenburger would go on to win the silver medal in the track cycling sprint competition at the Seoul Olympics, thus becoming the first Olympian to win Summer and Winter Olympic medals in the same year!
Clara Hughes (CAN) – cycling & speed skating
The story of Canadian Clara Hughes is a lesson in Olympic values. Clara was a self-admitted troubled teenager, who did not envision herself as an athlete. That was, until, she watched fellow Canadian Gaétan Boucher in the speed skating competition at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Hughes decided to take up speed skating, but after being noticed by a cycling coach, she moved to competitive track and road cycling. That proved a smart move, as Hughes won bronze in the road race and time trial competitions at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
After a somewhat disappointing performance at the Sydney 2000 Olympics (where she failed to medal), Hughes returned to the sport of speed skating, and just 17 months later the Canadian arrived at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics, winning bronze in the 5000m.
Her fairytale continued at Turin 2006, where she won gold in the 5000m and silver in the team pursuit. Her Winter Olympics career ended at Vancouver 2010 with another bronze in the 5000m. With six Olympic podiums across Summer and Winter Games, Hughes is the only athlete in history to have won mutliple medals in both competitions — a truly legendary accomplishment!
Lauryn Williams (USA) – athletics & bobsleigh
Lauryn Williams is another athlete who is also driven by an indomitable Olympic spirit. In the 2000s, she was a top sprinter competing with Marion Jones (USA) and the strong Jamaican sprinters at international competitions. She won a silver in the 100m at Athens 2004 and a gold in the 4x100 relay at London 2012.
Between the two Games, the American won three gold medals and one silver at the World Athletics Championships and competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Yet even after Williams hung up her track shoes, her Olympic desire never extinguished, and just six months before Sochi 2014, she found herself putting her sprint skills to use as the brakeman in the US’ two-woman bobsleigh team. She would go on to win Olympic silver in the competition in Russia (missing out on the gold by just a tenth of a second), becoming the first American female athlete to win medals at both editions of the Olympic Games.