Four years ago, while Lionel Messi was preparing to light up the FIFA Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, FIFA.com drew inspiration from the Games and ran a piece on the multi-talented footballers who have managed to pursue professional careers in other sports (see link on the right).
In the meantime, Argentina’s legendary former striker Gabriel Batistuta has taken up polo and ex-France full-back Bixente Lizarazu has become a European champion of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, while stars from other sports have been trying their hand at football, such as 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro, who signed for Spanish third division football club Coruxo.
And with London 2012 approaching fast, the time is right to take another look at some of the sportsmen and women with more than one string to their bow.
The London Olympics is one place where former Uruguay international Dario Silva had aimed to be. Three years after losing a leg in a car crash in 2006, the one-time Celeste forward, who scored 15 goals in 49 internationals, announced to his fans that he wanted to represent his country at the Games.
“I love rowing and my ambition is to compete at London 2012,” he declared. “That’s a promise and a dream of mine.” Though Silva was ultimately unable to fulfil that dream, he has since appeared in a number of charity football matches.
Like Silva, El Salvador’s Ricardo Saprissa was a fine all-round sportsman, who excelled at hockey, tennis and polo. And like Silva, he also ran out for Spanish side Espanyol, winning the Copa del Rey with them in 1928. The difference between the two is that Saprissa did appear at the Games, representing Spain in the tennis tournament at Paris 1924.
Stars on ice
The scorer of a match-winning Golden Goal in Turkey’s quarter-final with Senegal at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, Ilhan Mansiz has since set his sights on the Winter Olympics. Capped 21 times and seven times a goalscorer for his country, Mansiz called time on his career in 2006, since turning his hand to figure skating in the hope of representing Turkey at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, a goal he is seemingly well on the way to achieving.
“I got into football very late too, and didn’t start playing for a club until I was 14,” said the 39-year-old, who took his first steps on the ice on a Turkish reality show in 2007. “If you’ve got the determination to do something and you believe you can get there or can work hard to get there, then you can do it, no matter how old you are.”
Sharing the ice with the ex-Besiktas man is former Switzerland goalkeeper Kathrin Lehmann. The Swiss shotstopper has the distinction of being the only sportswoman to have won European titles in two different team sports. Victorious in the 2009 UEFA Women’s Champions League with FCR 2001 Duisburg, Lehmann also lifted the 2008 European Women's Ice Hockey Club Championship, this time as an attacking player, with Swedish club AIK. She also represented her country at the Winter Games in 2006 and 2010, the year she played her last international match, as a footballer.
Australia’s 21-year-old defender Ellyse Perry is another sporting all-rounder. A goalscorer for the Matildas at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, Perry is also a mainstay of the Aussie cricket team and played an instrumental role in her country’s triumph at the 2010 Women’s World Twenty20, being named player of the match in the final. “I try to do as much as I can in both sports,” she told FIFA.com.
There are many cases of players excelling at football and cricket, among them English brothers Denis and Leslie Compton, who played both sports at the highest level for nearly 25 years.
Football: American and Gaelic-style
A Bundesliga champion with Werder Bremen in 1988 and three times a Germany international, Manfred Burgsmuller had long since retired from the game before he decided to take up an alternative sport, namely American football, at the age of 47. Followed into gridiron by compatriots Axel Kruse and Ingo Anderbrugge, Burgsmuller became the oldest player in the history of the sport before hanging up his shoulder pads five years later.
While the three Germans played their American football in Europe, Austria’s Toni Fritsch went one step further, crossing the Atlantic to play in the NFL as a place-kicker with Dallas Cowboys. A three-time league champion with Rapid Vienna, and twice a scorer for his country in his nine international appearances, Fritsch achieved the ultimate by winning the Super Bowl in 1972.
Following a hugely successful career in which he won three Argentinian titles, two Copa Libertadores and an Intercontinental Cup with Boca Juniors, Vicente Pernia made the move into motor racing after he called it a day, finishing second in the 1996 National Touring Car Championship. Pernia’s skills run in the family: sons Lionel and Mariano are a racing driver and footballer respectively.
Former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland centre-half Kevin Moran did things the other way round, excelling as a Gaelic footballer before committing himself to football. Moran won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship with Dublin in 1976 and 1977 and then switched codes the following year to sign for United, lifting two FA Cups with the men in red in the mid-1980s and making 71 appearances for his country.
One man keen to follow in Moran’s footsteps is sprinter Usain Bolt, soon to be appearing at London 2012. The Jamaican speed machine has made no secret of his desire to run out for the Old Trafford club one day and believes he has what it takes to make a success of it: “I definitely think I’m good enough to play for Manchester United. I’m quick, I have a little skill – I have to refine it a little bit but I should be good enough.” Watch this space.