Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history. He holds the world record in the 100 meters sprint and 8 Olympic Gold Medals from three Olympic Games. At the conclusion of his track and field career, Bolt had a dream to play professional football.
He desired to play for Manchester United but had to settle for a trial with an Australian team, the Central Coast Mariners. When Bolt was picked to play in a pre-season match for the Mariners; 10,000 fans turned up. Bolt played for 19 minutes; touched the ball 7 times, had one shot at goal and missed in what some newspapers described as clumsy, some described as respectable, some said he was not quite up to speed; his coach said, “he did okay.”
Unfortunately for Bolt his football career didn’t quite go the way he hoped and after just eight weeks decided his sporting career was over. Bolt is the greatest sprinter in history but when it came to football; he was just okay.
Be like Mike
Its reminiscent of Michael Jordan who after winning three NBA championships famously switched from basketball to baseball in 1994. A year later Jordan returned to Basketball and another three NBA championships followed.
The Hayne Plane
Australia has it’s own sport switchers; Jarryd Hayne was a successful rugby league player who won rugby league’s international player of the year award in 2009. Six years later Jarryd Hayne shocked rugby league by moving to America and pursuing a career in the NFL. Hayne was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers.
Hayne didn’t win any international player of the year awards in the NFL. He played 8 games and didn’t exactly set the world on fire. After a year in the NFL Jarryd Hayne surprised everyone once again by quitting NFL and joining the Fiji rugby sevens team in the hope of making the 2016 Olympic team.
Hayne didn’t make the cut to go to the Olympics and so he returned to rugby league. Hayne tried to do everything, he said: “I would love to have played three sports or four sports. I would love to play league, union, sevens, NFL - I would have loved to play all four but you just can't do it.”
Follow the money
Sport switchers are notoriously unsuccessful. The AFL tried to promote new AFL teams the Gold Coast Suns and the GWS giants by poaching two rugby league players: Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau.
Both Hunt and Folau were top tier league players but struggled to achieve anything better than mediocre results in AFL. Hunt achieved 44 AFL games over 4 years. Israel Folau was paid an estimated 1.5 million dollars a year to play AFL and it wasn’t money well spent. Folau played 13 games and kicked just 2 goals.
Why do it?
Why do players switch sports? Each will have their own reasons, money may have been a factor in Hunt and Folau’s decision to try their hand at AFL. Bolt, Hayne and Michael Jordan switched sports to pursue a dream or in Jordan’s case his fathers dream. Some players simply enjoy a new challenge.
Why it doesn’t work?
Usain Bolt was dominating running competitions from the age of twelve until his retirement at thirty. Bolt didn’t simply turn up at the 2008 Olympics and win gold and it’s naive to think anyone could waltz into soccer at have instant success. Natural giftings will only take you so far, sporting success involves years of training, hard work and practice.
It’s not all downhill
Sport switching doesn’t always end badly; depending on your goals and your perspective. Jana Pittman was once the best hurdler in the world. In 2003 and again in 2007 she won the 400-meter hurdles world championships. Unfortunately for Pittman things never came together for her at the Olympics.
At a warmup event for the 2004 Olympics Pittman tore cartilage in her right knee. Pittman underwent surgery just a week before the Olympics and remarkably battled her way into the Olympic final where she finished 5th. Injuries prevented her from making the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
Pittman retired from athletics but in a turn of events she took up the sport of bobsledding. Pittman teamed up with Astrid Radjenovic and competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Whilst they finished 14th overall in Bobsled; Pittman became the first Australian female athlete to compete at both the summer and winter Olympics.
Pittman said she loved the sport of bobsledding, “I love that my body is suited to this sport. I'm too big for track, really. That's why I get injured. And the people in bobsled are beautiful.” Pittman showing that sometimes a sport switching is not so bad after all.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.