The Legacy of Olympic Heroes: Where Are They Now?

Dame Katherine Grainger and Olympic champion swimmer Ellie Simmonds are both well into their second decades as professional athletes. Similarly, Olympic heroes Jesse Owens, Michael Phelps and Mo Farah are now in their late 40s, having established enduring athletic records that will likely never be broken.

These modern day Olympic heroes, and the many others who have represented their country on the world stage over the years, are a reminder that becoming an Olympic hero comes with responsibilities that extend beyond putting on a good show in front of adoring fans. Athletes owe a debt of gratitude to the people and communities that support them on their journey to sporting greatness. Learn more

Traditional Sports Around the World

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture takes pride in shining a light on the achievements of these athletic legends, past and present, and in honoring their legacies both on and off the field.

For centuries, Olympic winners were treated like heroes. Athletes from antiquity wore wreaths around their necks, were crowned with the prized kotinos — a gold laurel crown— and carried on strong shoulders into their city where they thanked the gods and participated in feasts celebrating their victory. Often, the city-state also provided substantial financial rewards for their success, including a lifetime pension and free meals in public venues. These Olympians looked to the ancient Greek hero Herakles for inspiration in achieving their superhuman feats, which included wrestling his father Kronos and winning the pankration—a no-holds-barred combat sport.