Sudden Sports Stars: Where Are They Now?

11:00 AM PST 07/04/2014 by Debbie Emery
AP Images
Alexi Lalas in 1994, and now after a shave and a haircut, at the 2014 World Cup.

After Tim Howard catapulted himself around the net and into the record books with 16 stunning saves this week, THR takes a look at other athletes who became overnight successes through their sporting achievements.

Some athletes strive their whole lives to be recognized for their talent on the field, in the pool or on the track, while others appear to become instantly famous through a sudden moment in the sports spotlight.

The U.S. national team's hero this week was undoubtedly goalkeeper Tim Howard, who despite an exit from the World Cup in a 2-1 loss to Belgium on Tuesday, had a miraculous 16 saves — more than any goalkeeper in the World Cup since 1966.

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Howard, 35, could now become the de facto face of U.S. soccer by stealing the crown and the glory from 2010's star player, Landon Donovan. Even non-soccer fans marveled at Howard's gravity-defying feats as he flung himself around the net, and Twitter was quickly bombarded with memes proclaiming the goalie as Captain America or the next president. 

The New Jersey native, who plays for Premier League team Everton most of the year, is suddenly the most sought-after player in America, but don't expect him to be jumping ship from the Liverpool, England-based club anytime soon. A contract signed in April ties him there until at least 2018.

While all of these athletes worked hard and trained diligently for their success, they are united by the fact that one defining act catapulted them to fame. The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at some of the past sudden stars of the world's biggest stages and reveals where they are now.

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Alexi Lalas

Redheaded Panayotis (AlexiLalas roared onto the pitch when the U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup, and made a deep impression on fans with his shaggy look and his defensive skills. With his flame red curls flying, Lalas started and played all 90 minutes in all four U.S. matches and was named an honorable mention All-Star. After being signed by the New England Revolution and the L.A. Galaxy, he now plays in an amateur league for local team Hollywood Athletic, but is currently back at the World Cup — this time as a soccer analyst for ESPN. Some fans may not recognize the 42-year-old's new clean-cut look however, as Lalas has ditched the haircut and beard that made him a national icon. In May, he also finally graduated from Rutgers University 26 years after first enrolling, earning a degree in English with a minor in music.

Julie Foudy

After winning Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004, Julie Foudy's retirement (along with teammates Mia Hamm and Joy Fawcett) marked the end of the "golden era of U.S. women's soccer." The former team captain later became a member of the first all-female class of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, and instead of sitting on the sidelines, she has since carved out a successful career in broadcasting. Foudy, 43, is also currently in Brazil covering the 2014 World Cup for ESPN as a soccer commentator, and told THR before she left for Rio that "you don’t realize soccer is a men's sports until you go aboard," however after even having objects thrown her at on the field when she first went to South America to play, now "women’s teams are much more accepted and respected and Brazil has more female players."

Tim Tebow

The former Florida Gators quarterback first caught the country's attention as a teenager when he was at the center of a 1996 legislation that allowed home schooled athletes to compete in high school events, which was later dubbed the "Tim Tebow Law" and featured on ESPN's Outside the Lines. Throughout his college and professional career, the devout Christian son of missionaries sparked a number of spinoff trends including the "Tim Tebow Rule" — the banning of messages on eye paint — and the verb "Tebowing," meaning "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." While still praying, the former Heisman Trophy winner is not currently playing despite a short NFL career with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and, fleetingly, with the New England Patriots, and will be an analyst on ESPN's new SEC Network (launching August 14). "I'm training every day and feel like I'm the best that I've ever been," he recently said of his ongoing football dream, and just like when he got traded to the Jets, the positive 26-year-old is still "excited" about whatever the future holds.

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Brandi Chastain

The most prominent member of the Women's World Cup team in 1999,  Brandi Chastain soared to fame when she flung off her top after the game-winning penalty shoot out kick against China, falling to her knees in just a sports bra and clenching her fists in celebration. Chastain, now 45, was credited for changing the face of women's soccer with the impromptu striptease, and — after winning two Women's World Cup championships, two Olympic gold medals and a silver medal — she has since played for the semi-professional team California Storm. The San Jose native also found success off the pitch in the broadcast booth with ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports, wrote a book aptly-titled It’s Not About the Bra, and is a spokesperson for a number of products including Johnson & Johnson, an official sponsor of the 2014 World Cup.

McKayla Maroney

Gymnast McKayla Maroney was infamously "not impressed" when she won the silver medal in the vault finals during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The petulant face that the now 18-year-old from Laguna Niguel, Calif., pulled became an Internet sensation and sparked a flood of mimicking memes. She's since recreated the look with President Barack Obama and David Letterman, and recently told ESPN that she doesn't even remember making it on the podium. "I wasn't expecting two seconds of my life to go viral," she said, adding that she makes that face all the time. An injury on the uneven bars in September that broke her tibia unbalanced Maroney's gymnastic aspirations but after spending her time off acting as a judge in the Miss America pageant and starring in the Thirty Second to Mars video for "Up in the Air," she is finally back training again for the U.S. Nationals August 15-18 in Hartford, Conn. "My coach told me today I'm in good shape," she told ESPN. "I haven't heard him say that in forever."

Missy Franklin

During the 2012 Summer Olympics, 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin took home an impressive five medals — and four of them were gold. The 6'1" phenomena went on to be named Swimming World's World Swimmer of the Year and the American Swimmer of the Year, and became the first woman in history to six gold medals at a single World Championships the following year in Barcelona. The Christian from Colorado has also achieved millions of teenagers' dreams by appearing in an episode of Pretty Little Liars (as herself) and is active in a number of charities including Swim for Multiple Sclerosis and One Drop USA. She's currently studying at the University of California, Berkeley, swimming for the Golden Bears college team and hoping to go to Rio in 2016 for the next Olympics.

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Michael Chang

At just 17, Michael Chang was catapulted to fame when he became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam singles title with the French Open in 1989, beating tennis star Ivan Lendl along the way. Famed for his on-court speed and jumping two-handed backhand, Chang remained on the top of his game until the late '90s and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008. Born in New Jersey to parents from Taiwan, Chang became a spokesperson for Asian-American youth, and never forgot that his biggest victory came in the wake of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China. He also acted as a goodwill ambassador for the 2008 Beijing Olympic bid committee. The dedicated Christian and his wife, Amber Liu, now run the Chang Family Foundation and Christian Sports League ministry in Rancho Santa Margarita. Chang, 42, hasn't put down his racket for good, however, and hosts a tennis clinic and summer tournament.

Smarty Jones

A decade before California Chrome made a bid for the Triple Crown, Pennsylvania thoroughbred Smarty Jones came within one horse of making history when he was second in the Belmont Stakes in 2004 after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Smarty never raced again and retired that August due to bruising of his ankle bones, but was one of the top five searched words or terms on Google that year and earned $7,613,155 in winnings. His legacy on the track transferred to his stud fees and he enjoyed a retirement of breeding future winners, first at the Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky, before moving to Northview Stallion Station in Pennsylvania, where he is described as "one hot sire!"

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