Here in the U.S., we're accustomed to seeing phenomenal feats of athleticism on display year-round. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL already feature the best of the best—and leagues like MLS and rugby are attracting even better talent by the day.
So with all that athleticism running around, it's always fun to wonder what would happen if some of those pros had decided to switch out their usual sport and participate in the Olympic Games instead. Sure, Michael Jordan can win a gold medal while competing in basketball, but what if he took on the long jump, the javelin throw, or another event from track and field? What if an NFL speedster tried sprinting, or a powerhouse MLB slugger took up Olympic weightlifting?
And this isn't to say that those events don't take plenty of training and practice—Olympians spend their entire lives training to reach the highest echelons of their sports. We're just betting that these guys, with their innate athletic ability, might've had a shot at the same level of excellence.
Here's our bets for 13 pro athletes who—with the right training and plenty of skill work—could shine in the Olympic Games:
Sure, he's already part of the USA basketball team. But as one of the best overall athletes in the NBA, LeBron could easily translate his raw athletic ability to a myriad of Olympics sports. The King probably could dominate in the high jump and pole vault in track and field, and maybe even could win a round or two at boxing—but the long jump is also well-suited to his skills. James has shown off his explosive leaping ability while dunking from the foul line multiple times in his NBA career.
Trout is probably the best all-around player in baseball, flashing skills with his bat, glove, and legs while making highlight-reel plays wherever the Angels are playing. There's no doubt his impressive upper- and lower-body power would translate to discus or shot put. As for the high jump, pole vault, hurdles, and running races? Trout would likely have to shed some weight to handle them, but based on his five-tool skills as a baseball player, he definitely has the all-around athleticism to be a competitor.
If there were an Olympic competition for one-handed catches, Beckham surely would win the gold medal. But until that day comes, the ultra-athletic New York Giants wideout will have to settle for the hurdles. OBJ has shown off some freakish athleticism in the NFL—combining speed, body control, arm strength, leg strength, and agility—which would make him a perfect competitor for this event. Beckham has jumped over cornerbacks to make catches, and in 2014 he showed off his amazing skills to the world while making one of the greatest catches in NFL history.
In 2006, Johnson posted a ridiculously speedy 4.24 second 40-yard dash—the fastest ever recorded at the time—making him one of the quickest players in the entire NFL. With speed like that, Johnson would be well-suited in events like the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, and the 4x100 relay competitions on the Olympic track.
Even though Johnson may have lost a tick or two of that flash over the years, his leg strength is still remarkable, and he showed that he still can be a burner after powering the the Arizona Cardinals to a strong 2015 season.
Johnson is not the only NFL player that would fit the bill for track and field: Dri Archer, Jacoby Ford, Marquise Goodwin, and Darrius Heyward-Bey all posted 40-yard dash times of 4.3 seconds or less in the past. Don’t forget about Ted Ginn Jr. either. During one play during the 2015 season, the speedy wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers was clocked at 22.44 mph during a 74-yard touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons.
Watt is an absolute athletic beast—winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in five seasons proves that—and that makes him a perfect option to take part in the Olympic Games. The 6’5”, 289-pound defensive end looks like he belongs in some semi-ancient Greek legend, throwing the discus while stunned onlookers marvelat his athletic prowess. Watt throws around huge offensive linemen with his massive arms, so why not substitute a discus and see what happens?
Rodgers has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and that skill could make him a top javelin thrower if he decided to pick up the stick in the Summer Games. But the jav isn't just about strength. Accuracy and technique make for successful javelin athletes, and Rodgers is the top of his class when it comes to those skills—the former Cal Bears star is as accurate as anyone in NFL history, completing at least 60 percent of his throws from 2008-2015. Rodgers showed that off during the 2015 season with a miracle Hail Mary that went for a 61-yard touchdown. As for historical challengers? In their primes, QBs like Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre were known to nearly tear off their receivers' hands with their rocket passes.
Adams may not be from the United States, but he has great hair, so he gets an exception for this one. Adams has earned a reputation as one of the toughest guys in the NBA, and rightly so—the dude has wild hair, takes elbows like it’s no ones business, and dishes out punishment while being the enforcer for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Adams comes from a family of giants (his sister Valerie won Olympic gold in the shot put in 2008 and 2012), and while he was growing up in New Zealand, his first love was playing rugby. Nowadays, his height suits him well on the hardwood, but there's no doubt the mustachioed Kiwi has the demeanor to be a top rugby star. Adams has no trouble getting down and dirty in a scrum, and he would be one tough dude to take down.
With a nickname like Thor, Syndergaard fits perfectly into the Olympic Games and he would be well-suited for the shot put based on his skills on the baseball diamond. The hard-throwing pitcher routinely gets into the triple digits. Even though a shot put weighs more than a baseball, Syndergaard likely would have no trouble making the adjustment. Want more proof that this dude can sling it? Syndergaard branded his own teammate after one of his pitches hit catcher Kevin Plawecki in the chest. That’s some power right there.
Smith is considered to be one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL, and at 6’5”, 320 pounds, he has the beef to back it up. Smith put up 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press during his NFL Combine workout, and he's been a beast on the gridiron as he paves the way for the Dallas Cowboys running backs. Pushing around defensive linemen takes plenty of skill and speed technique, but after starting all 79 games through the first five years of his NFL career, Smith definitely has the explosive power and durability to put up some big numbers in the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.
Leonard is one of the best all-around players in the NBA, and his defensive skills have earned him back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015-2016. Leonard has also been called one of the smartest players in the NBA by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, so he should have should have no trouble picking up the defensive techniques that are needed to excel in fencing. The former San Diego State standout has a calming demeanor that likely would keep him from getting rattled in a fencing duel. Fencers need strong bladework and footwork to be successful and Leonard has shown that he has some of the best feet in the NBA.
Howard may have lost a step or two during his time with the Houston Rockets, but the NBA star was once considered to be the most athletic big man in the league. Nicknamed “Superman” during his time with the Orlando Magic, Howard showed off his ridiculous leaping ability while winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year three times and leading the league in blocks twice. The 6’11” center is one of the best rebounders in the NBA, and those skills would prime him for success in the high jump. This dude knows how to elevate.
At 265 pounds, Gronk might be too large to be an ideal rower, but he sure has the build for it. Gronkowski is extremely athletic for a player his size, and his combination of height (6'6") and all-around strength (as a tight end, he needs both blocking and running ability) could be clutch for any heavyweight crew team looking to row their way to the gold medal. The Gronk also knows his way around the water—the tight end held a “Gronkowski Cruise” that went from Miami to the Bahamas in 2016.
Newton came into the NFL as an athletic freak out of Auburn, and not much has changed since. Newton has basically rewritten the rules about what it takes to be an NFL quarterback—witness his 2015 MVP award—and at 6′5″, 245 pounds, his combination of speed, power, strength, and agility seems at times superhuman.
Being such an absurd athlete would make Newton well-suited for a number of events in the Olympics. Rugby sevens? Yeah he could do that—he already bounces off linebackers like it’s nothing. Decathlon? Absolutely. Volleyball? Imagine a serve coming from his cannon arm. Handball? Better watch out for those returns. Newton might have a future in the Olympics if that whole football thing doesn't work out. (But don't hold your breath.)