As Olympics draw to a close hundreds of athletes ask: Now what?

45073 full

Check out KPCC’s "L.A. To London” series, exploring Southland connections to the 2012 Summer Olympics. View the series and follow it on Twitter at #latolondon.

After three weeks of blood, sweat and endless galleries of gold-medal tears, the Olympics are winding down on Sunday, leaving hundreds of athletes asking the same question: now what?

Andrew Strenk, former president of Southern Californian Olympians, says that the games serve as a springboard to even greater achievement for many Olympians.

For example, Benjamin Spock.

“Everybody knows him as sort of the baby doctor," says Strenk (referring to Spock's pioneering role in child care). "But here’s a guy who ... got a gold medal in rowing. People think of George Patton [as] the famous army general, but he was from Southern California — from Pasadena — [and] was on the 1912 Olympic games team."

That said, some of the U.S. medalists coming home have decidedly less ambitious goals. When asked by ABC News what his future holds, gold medalist Ryan Lochte said that he "doesn't know" but it would "probably, definitely" involve reality TV.

"It ... wouldn’t be your normal reality TV show," Loche was quick to clarify, "because I’m definitely not your normal guy.

He is still thinking of swimming in the next two Olympics, but Strenk warns that the obsessive-compulsive qualities that get athletes Olympic medals just aren’t as useful in a 9:00-5:00 world.

“You’ve focused, you’ve succeeded, you have ... your Olympic experience," he says, "and now it’s time to move on with your life. But other people have been having these lessons in life, while you’ve been working out for five or six hours a day."

Strenk was on the U.S. swimming team in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. A giant poster of the '68 games and 4 ft. tall map of the Mexican capitol hang on the wall in his office — but the map, at least, is not a souvenir. Strenk is currently a consultant to US and Mexican companies that build shopping malls.

“This is a map of Guadalajara," he says, pointing to his wall. "We’ve actually done work in every state in Mexico, so that’s 32 states."

He does business across the border, he says, thanks to a brief chat with a Mexican swimmer in 1968 — but beyond that, pretty much all he got after the ’68 Olympics was a certificate. (Nowadays, the US Olympic Committee offers athletes career management seminars, help finding an agent and health insurance).

Strenk says athletes continue to struggle in spite of that help, and one well-known plaque south of downtown L.A. is a physical reminder of that fact.

Jim Thorpe was declared the world's greatest athlete during the Olympic games of 1912, and his plaque at Lomita City Hall honors that fact. But, former Lomita mayor Jim Cole says his time in the sun didn't last long.

“When the depression hit, he no longer had a job," says Cole. "I understand he even dug ditches and struggled with alcoholism throughout his life. At the time of his death there was one report that said he operated a café and beer bar in nearby Wilmington."

Thorpe died in a trailer park in Lomita, years after his Olympic medals were stripped.

Granted, it's pretty hard to imagine Thorpe falling quite so steeply today. But, if he did — he would always have reality TV.

blog comments powered by Disqus