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Vegetarian Athletes – 10 Olympic Champions
It’s a myth that muscle, strength and endurance require eating large amounts of animal-based foods. This myth started before anyone even talked about protein. During the Olympics, it’s a good time to look at some amazing champion athletes and vegetarians:
- Charlene Wong was a champion figure skater who represented Canada at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. She began competing at the age of 6 and in 1980 was named to Team Canada and represented Canada at the World Junior Championships. She was highlighted in Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide by Lisa Dorfman.
- Paavo Nurmi, a runner from Finland, a vegetarian since the age of 12. He is often regarded as the greatest track and field athlete of all time. A long-distance runner, he competed in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, winning 12 Olympic medals.
- Chris Campbell, a wrestler, trained for the 1980 Olympics but did not compete as the American team boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. At the age of 37, he began training again and secured a spot on the US team, winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics, becoming the oldest American to medal in Olympic wrestling. He says, “I take care of my body. I don’t eat meat, and I do yoga every day. It makes a difference.”
- Carl Lewis, a vegan athlete, won 10 Olympic medals, including 9 gold, in a career that spanned from 1979 to 1996, competing for the United States. He said, “most athletes have the worst diet in the world, and they compete despite it.”
- Surya Bonaly, a professional figure skater, represented France in the 1992, 1994, and 1998 Olympics. She is also now a citizen of the United States. A vegetarian, she has appeared in PETA ads protesting the Canadian baby seal hunt and the English and French fur trade.
- Debbie Lawrence, a vegetarian race walker, has been a three-time Olympian (1992, 1996, and 2000) and is the world record holder for the women’s 5K race. She attributes her success to hard work and a vegetarian diet.
- Murray Rose, a vegetarian since birth, has six Olympic medals. He was born in 1939 in Nairn, Scotland, but moved to Australia with his family at a young age. He was an Olympic champion at the age of seventeen. He was known for his vegetarianism during his career, earning him the nickname, “The Seaweed Streak.” He competed in the Olympic Games from 1956 to 1960, winning six medals.
- Al Oerterdiscus thrower, won four Olympic gold medals for the United States – in 1956, 1960, 1964. He was also an abstract artist.
- Edwin Moses, hurdler for the United States, was a gold medalist who went eight years without losing the 400-meter hurdles. During his career, he won two Olympic gold medals. After retiring from the track, he completed a bobsled race at the 1990 World Cup in Germany and won the two-man bronze medal with USA Olympian Brian Shimer. Edwin Moses is a vegetarian.
- Leroy Burrell, sprinter, twice set the world record for the 100 meter sprint. He won a gold medal for the United States in 1992 in Barcelona. He is a vegetarian.
As noted in “Vegetarian Diets” by the International Center for Sports Nutrition, Olympic Coaches Magazine, Winter 1997:
“If care is taken to include a wide variety of foods, vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate to support athletic performance.”
“Whether an individual is a recreational or world-class athlete, being a vegetarian does not diminish natural talent or athletic performance. As far back as the Ancient Games, Greek athletes trained on a vegetarian diet and display incredible ability in competitive athletics.”
Looking at these 10 vegetarian Olympic athletes, it’s clear that the need to eat meat to be strong and a champion is a myth. A whole foods, plant-based diet will provide all the excellent nutrition an athlete needs to be a winner.
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