What These Iconic Olympians From The 2000s Look Like Today

For Olympians, the crowning achievement comes from winning a spot on the podium — preferably the middle one — or smashing a world record. But athletic careers can only last so long, and eventually, the grueling nature of elite-level athletic training takes its toll and forces them to retire.

So what do they do afterwards? The answer is pretty much anything and everything, running the gamut from typical involvement in charity, motivational speaking, and sports administration to politics and, in certain countries — the military. Often, they become figureheads and ambassadors for their respective countries, promoting their homelands off the field just as they did on it in their younger years.

The first decade of the 2000s, in particular, gave us some of the most recognizable faces of the Olympic Games, many of whom have moved on to further pursuits. From Usain Bolt and Yelena Isinbayeva to Shaun White and Michael Phelps, here's what these legendary (and not always for their sporting prowess) athletes look like today.

Hicham El-Guerrouj

Hicham El-Guerrouj is a well-known figure in the track and field world. According to NBC Sports, he is known as "king of the mile" for his 3:43 world record (which still stands) at the 1999 Rome World Championships. But according to the IOC, El-Guerrouj always seemed to struggle in Olympic competition. In fact, between the Atlanta 96' games and Sydney 2000 games, he won every mile/1500m except for one – the 2000 final. But at the Athens 2004 games, he snapped his Olympic losing streak and captured the 1,500m gold. He then won a second gold in the 5,000m race against the Ethiopian winner of the 10,000m race.

According to World Athletics, El-Guerrouj retired from competition in 2006, having won pretty much everything he could win. Although not competing at the elite level anymore, El-Guerrouj has continued his involvement in athletics and outreach in other ways. Chief among his pursuits is his position as a "peace through sport" ambassador for the Peace and Sport organization. His justification? He claimed sports were "an international language that can unite millions of politicians, millions of young people and women," breaking down barriers and making the world a better place.

Apart from that, he has done a few events in the United States too. In October 2022, according to the University of Virginia, El-Guerrouj was the honorary starter of the university's XC23 cross-country invitational. Meanwhile, though he may soon have some competition, as 21-year-old Norwegian Jacob Ingebrigtsen seeks to usurp El-Geuerrouj's world record, per NBC.

Michael Phelps

American Michael Phelps is one of the most recognizable Olympians and probably one of the greatest swimmers ever. According to USA Today, the swimming giant swam in a total of five Olympic Games with an impressive haul of 23 gold medals out of 28. A 2014 suspension for DUI did not stop him either, and at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, he notched five golds and one silver, per AS, handing him the record for Olympic medals won by an individual. Not quite his eight-gold haul at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but still pretty good.

But alas, no sporting career lasts forever, and an important part is knowing when to quit. Phelps retired after the 2016 games and has since carved out a niche for himself in the swimming gear and philanthropy worlds. He owns his own business called Phelps Brand, which sells swimming gear. But his most important contributions come in his advocacy for mental health issues.

In 2018, CNN reported that the star swimmer had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. In an interview with Time Magazine, Phelps noted that he had long hidden these struggles until after he retired. But after therapy, he said he realized that he wasn't alone, and would be best served using his fame, fortune, and voice to advocate for people suffering from similar mental health issues who might not otherwise have a voice. For his work in this field, he has become a Special Olympics ambassador and a winner of the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion. Today, Phelps lives with his wife and three children.

Usain Bolt

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt made waves at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing when he set world records for the 100m (9.68) and the 200m (19.31) alongside a team world record in the 4x100m relay, per the IOC. Bolt would go on to compete in the 2012 and 2016 editions of the Olympics before a hamstring injury at the 2017 IAAF World Championships forced him into retirement from athletics, per AS. His overall haul included eight Olympic gold medals – a stellar career by any metric – and the current 100m world record (9.58).

After athletics, Bolt did not quite call it quits on his sporting ambitions. According to the IOC, he decided to try his feet at professional soccer, a dream he had entertained since boyhood. After training with a handful of clubs in Europe and Africa, he signed with Australian League side Central Coast Mariners. Not quite his dream of playing with Manchester United, but not bad either. He made it eight weeks and even scored twice, per the BBC, but decided to retire from all sports definitively in 2019.

Bolt's most recent venture has taken him into the world of esports. Per Forbes, he is currently co-owner of the esports company WYLDE, which fields a diverse team of gamers from mostly European countries who compete in international esports competitions. He has spoken of his desire to expand the WYLDE team and the reach of esports to his native Jamaica.

Yelena Isinbayeva

Known as the "queen of the pole vault" per TASS, Russian pole vaulter Elena Isinbayeva joined Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt as the 2008 World Athlete of the Year thanks to her record at the Beijing 2008 games, per Britannica. She set a new world record of 5.06m in the pole vault at the Zurich 2009 IAAF Golden League, which still stands today.

After Russia's doping ban disqualified her from Rio 2016, per Euro News, Isinbayeva announced her retirement and became a member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission. Today, Isinbayeva, per TASS, is a wife and mother. She is married to fellow Russian athlete Nikita Petinov, with whom she has a daughter. But she has continued her role as a sporting ambassador for Russia.

Lately, Isinbayeva has become ensnared in geopolitics thanks to her role in Russian sports administration. She clashed with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2017, which requested her removal as the head of Russia's anti-doping agency. Per the BBC, they singled her out as one of the major barriers to Russia's compliance with WADA standards. Isinbayeva is also an insider in Vladimir Putin's government – a member of "Team Putin," as she wrote, according to TASS. But she is also an IOC member, which has called for the suspension of Russian athletes in response to the war in Ukraine, per Inside the Games. Isinbayeva's role on the IOC is particularly controversial because, as noted in The Times, she is a member of the Russian military and is technically sanctioned. So far, however, she has not faced any action.

Valentina Vezzali

Although not so well-known in America, Valentina Vezzali is an absolute legend in the fencing world and in her native Italy. In an interview with the Academy of Fencing Masters, it was noted that she won six consecutive Olympic gold medals in the individual foil from Atlanta '96 to Beijing 2008. She retired after the world championships in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and has since entered the Italian political scene.

Vezzali began her political career while she was still competing in 2012, when, according to CNN, she became a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the Scelta Civica Party. Among her first priorities was to try and get sports into Italian schools starting at the elementary level, although she did not manage to push it through.

Vezzali's passion, however, has been female empowerment through the talents she considers unique to women. In her interview, she highlighted the ability to multitask while also opposing any gender quotas, which she believes harden discrimination against women in political and business life by making their presence something abnormal. In this vein, she mentioned that she, at some point, intends to become the president of Italy's Fencing Federation. She would be the first woman to hold the position. A challenge, no doubt, but she's never backed away from one so far. Although she has yet to reach that position, she is, per Inside the Games, Italy's Undersecretary for Sport.

Federica Pellegrini

Joining Valentina Vezzali is co-national Olympic swimmer Federica Pellegrini, another star of her sport. According to SwimSwam, she burst onto the international scene at the tender age of 16, winning silver at the Athens 04' games and notched a gold in the 400m freestyle. Her Olympic performances, however, never quite matched her World Championship performances, where she won many more medals and notched two world records in the 200m and 400m freestyle in 2009.

According to the IOC, Pellegrini is a bit different from others on this list in that she retired after the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (which, due to COVID, were held in 2021). After the games, she became a member of the IOC Athletes' Commission. But that hasn't stopped her from expanding her horizons into the entertainment world. According to the IOC, Pellegrini is an avid fashion aficionado, who delights her nearly two-million-strong fan base with model-quality Instagram shoots and pictures of her two dogs. She has taken part in Milan Fashion Week and has even been a judge on the Italian equivalent of America's Got Talent.

With her sports career behind her, Pellegrini has also settled into family life. In August 2022, per SwimSwam, she married soccer player Matteo Giunta in her native Venice. Her bridesmaids? Mostly fellow Italian Olympic swimmers.

Shawn Johnson East

Gymnast Shawn Johnson made her name at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, notching gold on the women's balance beam and silver in the all-around team competition and floor exercise at just 16 years old, per USA Gymnastics. She added a 2007 World Championship title to her laurels and hoped for a return to the Olympics at London 2012. However, a string of injuries sidelined her and led to her retirement in 2011.

The abrupt end to her sporting career has not stopped her from pursuing a variety of other ventures outside of sports — mostly in the entertainment and blogging worlds. Most famously, she came in first on the 2009 season of "Dancing with the Stars" and was runner-up in the 2012 all-stars edition. She even appeared with Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice (pictured above). Rounding off her plaudits, she is also a New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs and a young adult novel.

Today, Johnson-East, as she is known following her marriage, is best known for her internet ventures as a wife and mother. She frequently vlogs about her life with her husband, Andrew East, and their two children on The East Family. Her content spans from lighthearted videos of her reacting to her past gymnastics performances and taking her daughter to meet her former Olympic coaches to much weightier topics, including a candid discussion of her feelings after suffering a miscarriage in 2017 and her struggles with body image and disordered eating.

Eric Moussambani

Equatoguinean swimmer Eric "the Eel" Moussambani made waves not because he was a great athlete, but because he nearly drowned in the pool during the 2000 Sydney Olympic games. According to The Daily Mail, he had no swimming experience and only made the Olympic team by answering a radio call looking for athletes after Equatorial Guinea got a wildcard spot. Moussambani got the Olympic spot as the only person to respond.

To prepare for the games, he trained in a 13m hotel pool, since the country didn't have any Olympic-sized swimming pools. He also received pointers from fishermen in his other training location — a crocodile-infested river. And the lack of training showed with a record-slow time of 1:52.72 for his 100m freestyle. Incredibly, he still won his heat after his competitors false-started. Despite improving after the fiasco, he did not participate in the 2004 games.

Despite the embarrassment, Eric "the Eel" made the most of his fame to create a swimming program in his home country, which according to Swimming World Magazine, he now coaches. He balances his coaching duties with a full-time IT job. So far, there has been some progress. According to Africa News, Equatorial Guinea now has two Olympic-sized pools and even sent a competitor to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, albeit on a wildcard. Definitely a marked difference from the early 2000s when there was not even a pool to train in!

Steven Redgrave

British rower Sir Steven Redgrave, per the IOC, began his career way back in 1984. However, he did not solidify his status as one of the greatest rowers until his gold-medal performance in the 2000 Sydney games — his final appearance before retiring. Never mind that he had already taken gold medals home in the previous four editions of the games. His final race in 2000 alongside teammates Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell, and Tim Foster. The quartet, per Sports Reference, narrowly edged out the Italian team by  0.38 seconds.

Redgrave has spent the last twenty-two years working primarily as a motivational speaker, according to his own website, discussing topics such as leadership, health, and overcoming obstacles. He has also been an outspoken advocate for people with chronic health conditions. Redgrave himself has suffered from ulcerative colitis, a condition caused by recurrent inflammation of the colon, since 1992, and diabetes since 1997. He encourages people to pursue their athletic dreams regardless of their medical conditions.

In addition to his work as a speaker, Redgrave sits on the executive committee for Laureus Sport for Good, a charitable organization whose vision articulates that "the power of sport can change the world and put an end to violence, discrimination, and disadvantage" — similar to Hicham El-Guerrouj's work for Peace and Sport. He received a Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

Svetlana Khorkina

Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina was widely considered the best gymnast of the 1990s and early 2000s, netting a whopping 47 Olympic, World, and European championship medals according to the IOC. In her three Olympic appearances from 1996 to 2004, she won gold on the uneven bars in 1996 and 2000. In America, however, she is best remembered for her poor sportsmanship. Per The Guardian, after losing the gold to American Carly Patterson in the 2004 all-around competition, she accused the judges of discriminating against her for being Russian and their perceived indifference to "grace, elegance, and beauty."

Since retiring from gymnastics in 2004, Khorkina has served in the Russian Gymnastics Federation. Like Italian Valentina Vezzali, she has also entered politics, serving in the Russian State Duma from 2007-2011. After exiting the Duma, she has continued promoting her country through sport, particularly as an ambassador for Russia's 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2019 Krasnoyarsk Winter Universiade, a youth winter sports event.

Lately, Khorkina has made headlines not for her athletic achievement but for her commentary, this time on COVID-19. She claimed, per the Wide World of Sports, that the COVID-19 outbreak was "God's punishment" towards the sporting world for banning Russia from the Olympics following allegations of state-sponsored doping. As she put it, "There is a reason why there is a line in our national anthem that says our land is protected by the Lord."

Shaun White

American Shaun White, per ABC Sports, erupted onto the snowboarding scene at the Turin 2006 games and has become one of the best snowboarders of all time. At just 19, he won gold in the halfpipe event and earned his nickname, "the Flying Tomato." After his debut, he competed in five Olympiads, retiring from the sport following an underwhelming performance at the 2022 Beijing games, where he was the oldest male halfpipe rider to ever compete at the Olympic level.

Even while maintaining his 16-year career in professional sports, White somehow found time to tour with his band – Bad Things – which opened at Lollapalooza in 2013. He was, however, later embroiled in the Me Too movement when the drummer of the band accused him of sexual harassment. He ultimately settled the suit in 2017.

According to the Bleacher Report, White has gradually rebranded himself from the carefree "Flying Tomato" into a serious business mogul. He had his own clothing line at Target, numerous sponsorships, and several business ventures consolidated into Shaun White Enterprises. Nevertheless, he still donates his time, most recently, per Essentially Sports, working at a camp to teach underprivileged children how to snowboard. This seems in line with Instagram posts (via Essentially Sports) the star made, in which he said he wanted to babysit as a new career — despite not needing the money. Maybe he's still just the carefree "Flying Tomato" at heart.

Dong Fangxiao

Gymnast Dong Fangxiao was a member of the ill-fated Sydney 2000 Chinese women's gymnastics team, which originally placed third. She was forced into early retirement in 2001 following necrosis in her femur from overtraining, per USA Today (via WO Gymnastika blog). But she did not become famous until nine years later.

According to the Asian Gymnastics Union (AGU), she was ensnared in a 2010 International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) investigation, which concluded that China had falsified her documents to allow her to compete in Sydney when she was only 14 years old – even though the minimum age was 16. In a nutshell, her documents for Sydney 2000 listed her as being born in 1983, while her CV in 2008 listed her birth year as 1986. Per The New York Times, the International Olympic Committee stripped Fong of her bronze medal, despite protests from China that Dong had acted independently of the Chinese government.

Since her retirement, Dong has lived a quiet private life in New Zealand with her husband, where she works as a gymnastics coach. As noted in the New Zealand Herald, for whatever reason, be it fear of reprisal or a sense of loyalty to her birth country, she has not discussed the scandal publicly. A friend noted she had visited China on at least one occasion, suggesting that the former was a likely reason for her silence.