Athletics is often described as a “sport of many sports” with a discipline to suit every body type. So perhaps it’s little surprise that many stars from other sports started out in track and field before specialising in a different sport.
But athletics isn’t always the losing sport. For every top talent that walks away from the track, there are many people who have ditched other sports in favour of athletics. Daley Thompson, for example, put a professional football career on hold to focus on athletics instead. After retirement from the decathlon, he played professionally for Mansfield Town.
Dai Greene, the 2011 world 400m hurdles champion, and rising sprint star Adam Gemili were also talented football players in their youth, while Christine Ohuruogu played netball for England as a teenager.
Nevertheless, here are 10 top sportspeople who have found success in other sports after showing much promise in athletics earlier in their careers.
10. Gareth Bale
The Welsh footballer recently transferred from Tottenham to Real Madrid for ridiculous money, making him one of the most talked about football players in the world at present. But in his early teens he was a talented middle-distance runner and triple jumper.
Okay, he was never of a level that would suggest he was the next Jonathan Edwards, but as a 15-year-old he triple jumped 12.78m, ranking him in the top 50 in the under-17 age group in Britain in 2005.
One year later he signed for Southampton and the rest is history
9. Alex Kiwomya
Alex may not be a household name – yet – but he has shown much promise in both athletics and football, despite being just 16 years old.
Back in 2009 he set European age-12 bests for the indoor 60m (7.22) and 200m (23.33), and one year later he smashed the British under-15 records in both events with times of 7.05 and 22.19. That summer, in just his second ever race over 400m, he produced the second-fastest time ever by a British under-15 athlete with a time of 49.0. He also won all 30 races he contested in 2010.
But just when the buzz around Kiwomya was beginning, it was announced that he had joined the Chelsea FC academy. No huge surprise, given that his father Andy and uncle Chris played professional football. Alex has since gone on to represent England at the under-16, under-17 and under-18 levels.
8. Emma Pallant
Less than two years ago, Emma Pallant won the under-23 race at the European Cross Country Championships. Following her 1500m bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in 2008, it was one of her biggest achievements in a blossoming career that seemed to be just taking off.
As recently as 2012, Emma was still setting PBs on the track, clocking 15:35.27 for 5000m. But an untimely injury just two weeks later forced her to withdraw from the Olympic Trials. Having missed out on the chance of competing at the London Games, Emma then turned her attention to the triathlon and quickly made an impact.
This year she won the overall title in the British Triathlon Super Series. She may have missed out on making the British Olympic team for the 2012 Games, but she could well be on the plane to Rio in 2016.
7. Nigel Walker
Less than two weeks after his 21st birthday, Nigel Walker won the national 110m hurdles title to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Games, where he went on to reach the semi-finals.
Two years later he narrowly missed out on a medal at the European Championships, but more than made up for it in 1987, winning bronze medals at the European Indoor Championships and the World Indoor Championships, finishing one place ahead of Colin Jackson at the latter.
But Jackson, four years Walker’s junior, soon became the nation’s No.1 hurdler. As Jackson’s career took off, Walker’s seemed to stall and after failing to qualify for the 1992 Olympics, he turned his attention to rugby.
He signed for Cardiff and was an instant hit as a winger. Just nine months later he made his international debut for Wales and went on to play for his nation 17 times between 1993 and 1998, scoring 12 tries.
6. Nedum Onuoha
Nigerian-born Nedum Onuoha currently plays football for Queens Park Rangers but spent eight years at Manchester City and was part of the squad when they won the 2011 FA Cup and the 2011-12 Premier League.
Three years before joining Manchester City, Nedum took the 100m silver medal at the English Schools Championships. Most young athletes would be pleased with that achievement, but Nedum was slightly disappointed as he went into the final as the big favourite, having impressed in the heats and semis.
It was a vintage year, too. The athlete who finished 0.02 ahead of him, Wade Bennett-Jackson, went on to win medals at the World Junior Championships and European Junior Championships. Nedum also finished ahead of Craig Pickering, who in 2007 won European indoor 60m silver, European Cup 100m gold and World Championships 4x100m bronze.
5. Non Stanford
The junior girls’ 3000m at the televised London Grand Prix has always offered an insight into the country’s future distance stars. At the 2004 edition, Non Stanford burst into the spotlight after winning the race by the length of the homestraight, clocking 9:22.84 – the fastest time in Europe that year by a 15-year-old.
A former regular opponent of Emma Pallant, Non continued to show glimmers of promise through her teens, but was blighted by injury. During one such period, she turned to swimming to assist with her rehab but – quite by accident – discovered she was a strong swimmer.
In 2008 she joined the Birmingham University triathlon club and just one year later finished second in the British Triathlon Super Series. In 2012 she won the world under-23 title and followed it twelve months later by winning the senior world triathlon title.
4. Aaron Ramsey
Arsenal footballer Aaron Ramsey has got his 2013-14 season off to a flier, having won the Premier League player of the month award for September. A talented youth, in 2008 at 17 he became the youngest player to play for the Welsh senior team and three years later was appointed captain of the team.
But before turning to football, Aaron excelled in rugby and athletics. In the latter, he won the 2005 under-15 Welsh Schools pentathlon title, beating David Guest who is now one of Britain’s top decathletes.
“I remember competing against him,” David said recently. “He was so good at the 800m.”
Despite walking away from athletics at an early age, Aaron did make it to the Olympics and played for the Great Britain team at the London 2012 Games.
3. Helen Glover
Helen Glover is part of a super-sporty family. According to Wikipedia, her father played tennis at junior Wimbledon, played football for Penzance FC and captained the Penzance Pirates rugby team.
Helen similarly excelled in many sports, representing her county in tennis, swimming and hockey. But her first notable sporting achievements came in athletics, making the English Schools final over 3000m in 2002 and repeating the feat one year later in the 800m. That year she was ranked in the top 20 in the country over 1500m and 3000m in the under-17 age group.
She drifted away from athletics and in 2008 discovered a talent for rowing. Her progress was staggering and in 2010 she took the silver medal at the World Championships. Two years later she won the Olympic title – Britain’s first gold medal of the London 2012 Games – and this year she was victorious at the World Championships.
2. Alistair Brownlee
Alistair Brownlee’s triathlon victory at the London 2012 Olympics was one of the most memorable gold medals won by the host nation as he was closely followed by younger brother Jonathan who took the bronze medal.
But before he began dominating the triathlon scene, keen observers of athletics in Britain knew Alistair for his cross-country prowess. As a junior he was a regular on the muddy terrain and in 2008 he finished second in the junior race at the prestigious English National.
One year later he represented Great Britain at the European Cross Country Championships, finishing 48th in the under-23 race. But at that point the triathlon had already become his main focus and earlier that year he had won the 2009 ITU World Championship Series, a title he regained two years later.
He has not left behind his athletics roots and has set himself the goal of representing England in the 10,000m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Earlier this year he clocked a PB of 28:32.48 for the distance, ranking him third in the country behind world and Olympic champion Mo Farah and 2010 European silver medallist Chris Thompson.
1. Lawrence Okoye
Lawrence Okoye is arguably one of the most talented athletes Britain has ever had.
As a 17-year-old he took the silver medal in the discus at the English Schools Championships off the back of minimal training. At the time his main focus was rugby and in 2010 he split his time between the two sports, winning the national junior title, finishing sixth at the World Junior Championships and coming within half a metre of the UK junior record.
The following year, 2011, was the first season in which he focused solely on the discus and it soon paid dividends. He set a world age-19 best of 67.63m, smashing the national senior record in the process, and then won the European under-23 title.
In 2012 he extended his national record to 68.24m, a world age-20 best, and made the Olympic final. All of this before his 21st birthday.
But earlier in 2013, Lawrence announced his intentions to play in the NFL, despite never having played American football before. At 6ft 5in, weighing 300lb with insane natural strength and enviable speed, Lawrence impressed in the various tests that made up the 2013 NFL draft and he later signed to play for the San Francisco 49ers.
And as if his sporting achievements aren’t enough, Lawrence is also academically gifted. He was offered a place at Oxford University to study law, but put it on hold in order to pursue his rugby/athletics/NFL careers.