Olympic Sports That Have Featured Pro Athletes

By Ellen Kershner on May 27 2020 in Sports

The 92 dream team included greats like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, and Patrick Ewing. Image credit: sportingnews.com
The 92 dream team included greats like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, and Patrick Ewing. Image credit: sportingnews.com
  • When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was created, the young men chosen to participate in the games were supposed to be amateurs
  • The team’s members included some of the National Basketball Association’s most famous players ever, and coined the phrase the “Dream Team.”
  • Serena and Venus were the first players – male or female- to win four Olympic gold medals, after London 2012 games.
  • Now, professional athletes can pretty much compete next to amateur ones. Up
  • Not everyone believes that professional and amateur athletes should compete together. When

Although the first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776 B.C. at Olympia in Greece, scholars feel that they had been taking place for close to 500 years. The games were later banned by a Roman Emperor and did not take place for hundreds of years, until they were reinstated on April 6, 1896, in Athens. At that time, 60,000 people came to watch the athletes, who came from 13 nations to compete.

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was created, the young men chosen to participate in the games were supposed to be amateurs, good at different sports rather than specializing in one activity. Clearly that has all changed, as the IOC has changed to accommodate sponsorships and corporate endorsements, paving the way for professional athletes to participate.

The First Professionals

Jim Thorpe was one of the first pro athletes to compete in the Olympics. Image credit: www.insidehook.com

One of the first professional athletes to compete in the Olympics was Jim Thorpe. In 1912, he won gold medals for the decathlon and pentathlon, but was stripped of them once it was revealed that he was a professional baseball player. Then in 1983, the OIC restored his medals on compassionate grounds, albeit posthumously.

The New York Times reported (in 1984) that several hockey players were not allowed to play in the Olympics because of their professional levels of experience. In the end, three athletes who had similar backgrounds were permitted to participate even though two had signed NHL entry contracts but not played with the organization. One other had played over 300 games with the World Hockey Association.

After 1984 things really changed, and a year later the IOC allowed professional athletes under age 23 to compete in hockey, soccer, and tennis. This was established on a temporary basis for the 1988 games, and the future would depend on how that worked out.

The Dream Teams

The Dream Team crushed the competition at the 92 Olympics. Image credit: olympicchannel.com

Then at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the U.S. Basketball Team made history. The team’s members included some of the National Basketball Association’s most famous players ever, and coined the phrase the “Dream Team.” It included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, and Patrick Ewing Magic Johnson. It was no surprise when the team won the gold medal that year, beating Croatia 117-85.

Another news-making Olympic team was the Williams sisters. Serena and Venus were the first players – male or female- to win four Olympic gold medals, after London 2012 games. They had already been awarded two doubles gold medals, in Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008. The two also won additional gold medals in singles’ categories.

Two Holdouts

Now, professional athletes can pretty much compete next to amateur ones. Up until a few years ago, the only two sports that did not let in professionals were boxing and wrestling. Then in 2016, the Amateur International Boxing Association changed their tune and began allowing professionals to compete in the Olympics.

The Critics Speak Out

Some feel it is not fair to have pros compete with amateurs at the Olympics. Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash

Not everyone believes that professional and amateur athletes should compete together. When the games were restarted in 1896, any athletes who were participating for financial benefits were cast out. As the years passed, the IOC accepted that advertising, sponsorships, and commercial interests were the best ways to make a profit and attract professional athletes.

Many do not feel that this levels the playing field for the participants, though. At its heart, this theory was expressed in a quote from the 1952-1972 IOC president Avery Brundage. He believed that sportsmanship and fair sport were based on having only amateurs play, and that it would “prevent the games from being used by individuals, organizations or nations for ulterior motives.” Others feel that it creates an imbalance, that professionals have more resources so it is not fair, and that original intention of the 1896 Olympics was to only have amateurs participate.

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