Olympic Confessions: 4 Former Olympians Tell All
Cobi Jones, Janet Evans, Sugar Ray Leonard and Greg Louganis on the highs and secret lows of the world's greatest sporting event.
THR: Are you all still competitive in everything you do?
Leonard: I am extremely competitive. Extremely. I played ping-pong with my kid, my 11-year-old son, Daniel, and I beat him bad. I played golf yesterday with a friend of mine and beat him. Not bad, but I gave him 20 strokes. What's made me who I am is my competitive nature.
Jones: I'm the youngest of four brothers, so I was getting beat up all the time. So, naturally, I had to hold my own. I started letting out that energy by playing soccer. I wanted to be the best. Even to this day, I'll be walking with a friend and try to be two steps ahead of him. (Laughter.) My wife has decided to just laugh at it. But I've told her, when I'm playing with my son, I'm not going to let him win. He's got to win on his own.
Leonard: I started boxing when I was 14. By the time I was 15 or 16, I was able to break my brother's nose. It felt good, too. (Laughter.) One day he looked at me and said, "You're trying to beat me." I said, "Yes, I am." I was such an introvert. I was so quiet. I was almost like a hermit because I was afraid of my own shadow. But boxing gave me confidence. It's magic.
THR: To be able to compete at the highest levels in your sports, do you think you need to be at least a little introverted?
Louganis: When we had family gatherings, I'd be in the doghouse with the dog, hiding from the people! But, you know, that's just kind of who I was. I think it helped because it really encouraged me to focus.
Evans: It varies from sport to sport. Swimming is very solitary, but swimmers in general arevery social.
Louganis: You're very social. (Laughter.)
Evans: Yes, we are! Swimmers just look at a black line for five hours a day. And then we get out of the pool and we're like, "Oh, there are things around us, and we can talk, and there are people to talk to!" I always tell people at the Olympic Village, you can tell athletes by their mannerisms. Water polo players all have bleached hair. Swimmers are too busy talking. Gymnasts are always together -- and little. When I started swimming again recently, a lot of it was because I needed some me time. I was used to five hours alone every day with just my thoughts!
THR: As Olympians, you're held to a higher standard of fitness, even long after you're done competing. What is your regimen to stay healthy and fit now?
Evans: A lot of Olympians, for the first few years after the Games -- especially gymnasts -- are like, "I'm going to eat whatever I want! No coach is telling me what to do." Then we all find out we need to be fit. It's who we are.
Louganis: A lot of Olympians find other sports, like mini-marathons and triathlons. I did the AIDS [bike] ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles back in '97. I was so proud of myself. I loved the physical challenge. I also did a 1.7-mile swim.
Evans: That's impressive, because I've seen you swim after your dives. (Laughter.)
Louganis: Thank God, I had a wetsuit! I also do yoga and spin class.
Leonard: Oh my God, I was so embarrassed, because I went to this spin class once and it was all women. And I couldn't do it! But now, I do things in moderation. I'll eat whatever I want to eat, whether it's fried chicken or whatever, but the next meal will be lighter. I eat ice cream all the time. But working out for me is therapy.
Jones: I took a year off from touching the ball in 1992. I thought I was going to work out constantly and that dwindled, and I put on a few pounds. I hit that point where you're like, "What am I doing?" Now I try to do five days a week of some type of aerobic workout and mix it up. I have a very active mind, and if I do the same thing three, four days in a row, I know I'll stop working out.
Louganis: I started doing trapeze, too. So, that's kind of a new venture for me, and then aerial silks [used in acrobatics] and slack line.
Evans: I once did a reality show that was circus-based, and we did the silks and I was terrible! I can't run. I can't hit a ball. I can't kick a ball. Swimming is a very specific skill set. I used to run a lot, but I would always trip.
Jones: I will embarrass myself in front of Sugar Ray and say that I've also tried to do a little boxing. And after about two minutes, I was absolutely exhausted. I couldn't even move. It works everything! I mean, my shoulders -- I couldn't even lift them. And the coach said, "Get the hands up!" I said, "They've been up for 10 to 15 minutes." And he says, "It's been a minute and a half."
Leonard: It's one of the best total body workouts. Also helps with stress. Whoever you think about that particular day, you hit them bad.
THR: How do you feel when you watch the Olympics now that you're retired?
Leonard: I see these athletes, and they are getting bigger and faster and quicker. I watch the Games -- I am a big fan and advocate of the Olympics. It's part of my life forever. It's part of my legacy.
Louganis: I always said I wanted to see my records broken. I want to sit in the audience and enjoy it. I want to experience that. There's a joy and love of being there and experiencing that with these kids. But I don't wish I was up there, you know? I just marvel at what they're doing. This year's Games are the first I'll attend since Atlanta, and I'm going as an athlete mentor for USA Diving.
THR: And the divers have tough competition this year. How do expectations play into competing at the Olympics?
Louganis: It's funny -- the predictions of medal counts were sent out, and diving is not on there. And I'm like, "Yes!" The expectations aren't there, and that's great for the kids.
Leonard: For my team, 1976, the boxing team, there was no expectation of a medal except one. They predicted one gold medal, and we brought back five. That was pretty cool.
Evans: At my first Olympics, I was barely 17 and swimming against the East Germans, who had dominated our sport, so no American woman was supposed to win. Sometimes when there are no expectations, that's when you do your best. I'm going this year. I want to see diving with Greg!
Jones: I'm going to be doing some analyst work for NBC in New York. So I'll be doing some of the soccer games out there. When I see the Olympics, when that music starts up, I just smile. You realize it is a family; you realize how important and tight-knit a group it is. We all agree that it's something special. Like Sugar Ray said, it's always part of our lives.
AFTER THE GAMES: These four athletes have pursued a variety of ventures in their post-Olympics careers.
Cobi Jones: The former Los Angeles Galaxy star has signed with NBC to serve as an analyst for the network's Olympic coverage of men's soccer, and he's covered the men's national team for the Fox Soccer Channel. The Southern Californian is a consultant for the New York Cosmos, a new minor-league franchise (named after the 1970s team) that will begin competition in 2013.
Janet Evans: In 2007, the swimmer released Janet Evans' Total Swimming, a book that details proper technique and offers workouts. A native of Placentia, Calif., she competed on NBC's Celebrity Circus in 2008. Evans' endorsements include BMW, Procter & Gamble and General Mills; in June, she made an unsuccessful attempt at age 40 to qualify for the London Olympics.
Sugar Ray Leonard: The boxer, a world champion in five weight divisions, last year released an autobiography, The Big Fight. Leonard, raised in Washington, D.C., competed in the 12th cycle of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, which debuted in March 2011 (he was voted off week 4). His organization, the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation, fights childhood obesity and diabetes.
Greg Louganis: Serving as an official mentor to the U.S. diving team, Louganis will travel to London for the Games. He has written the books Breaking the Surface (1995) and For the Life of Your Dog (1999). The native of El Cajon, Calif., appeared as himself in a recent episode of IFC's Portlandia and has done appearances and speaking engagements for Red Bull and Royal Caribbean.
Email: Stacey.Wilson@THR.com; Daniel.Miller@THR.com