Changing sports: from football to athletics and other unusual sporting moves

I suspect that due to my fragile feet, my running days may well be over. Although this is frustrating, I’ve been looking at other options. My recent training for Swimathon has demonstrated that my swimming technique is so poor; it’s preventing me from enjoying my sessions in the pool. I therefore doubt I’d enjoy training for a triathlon, the go-to alternative to running for injury-prone runners. Hopefully some swimming lessons will make me consider entering a triathlon in the future.Embed from Getty ImagesFormer tennis player Martina Hingis walks next to her horse after a fall during a jumping competition – I’ve been there and done that Martina, I feel your pain.

I then started to think about the number of athletes who have switched from running to triathlon. Some switched from running to triathlon due to injury issues, others due to the lack of opportunities to compete as a runner at the highest level. I’m not naming any names but there are several examples.

Although switching from running to triathlon comes with an element of risk, some athletes have made some slightly riskier moves. I found the outcome of some recent research carried out by interesting so decided to share it on my blog. created an infographic illustrating some of the athletes who have ventured into new sports in their careers. Some of these moves were successful, some weren’t quite so successful.

  • Martina Hingis, the winner of multiple Grand Slams, took a break from professional tennis at 22 to compete in show-jumping competitions. Martina returned to the court in 2005.
  • Victoria Pendleton, a multiple track sprint Olympic and World Champion, switched from cycling to horseracing, definitely a slightly random career move.
  • Adam Gemili found his fame on the football pitch until he switched to full-time athletics in 2012. I think Adam made the right choice.
  • Rebecca Romero, silver medallist in rowing at the 2004 Olympics, apparently became the first British woman to compete in two sports at the Olympic Games when she switched from rowing to cycling. Rebecca went on to take gold in the individual pursuit in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The research also identified athletes who have decided to downsize when switching sports. Although it’s clear that money isn’t always the deciding influence, I suspect that having enough money to support a career move helps. For example, Michael Jordan took a break from basketball in 1993 and switched to baseball, as a result his earnings dropped substantially. I suspect the majority of athletes wouldn’t be financially secure enough to change sports.

More recently Gwen Jorgensen, the current Olympic triathlon gold medallist ran the 2016 New York Marathon in 2:41:01. Four time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington is running the London Marathon next month. I can’t wait to see how Chrissie approaches the London Marathon.

If professional athletes can make risky and in some cases rather random career moves, perhaps I’ve still got time to find an alternative to running. Just don’t expect me to enter a triathlon any time soon. It would take me all day to complete the first two phases.

If you had to give up running tomorrow, which sport would you consider as an alternative? I might do a Martina Hingis and return to show-jumping.


8 thoughts on “Changing sports: from football to athletics and other unusual sporting moves

  1. AnnaTheApple says:

    Ooh that is a tough question. I quite enjoy climbing – and did do that for a bit when I was injured. But it’s just a faff to get to and expensive. I don’t really enjoy cycling…and I hate swimming. So triathlon really isn’t for me! Hiking and things like that are good though.


    • Emma says:

      It’s such a tough question isn’t it! I can honestly say I’ve never even given climbing a thought. I suspect my weak upper body strength and long limbs might be a slight disadvantage. I’ll definitely give it a go at some stage. I’m not a fan of cycling and my Swimathon training has made me hate swimming. Someone suggested that I try a modern pentathlon. While I hate swimming, I enjoy fencing, shooting, horse-riding and cross country running. If only I was a bit younger!


    • Emma says:

      I’ve always wanted to try orienteering Kyra. I thought the aim was to complete the course as quickly as possible, I didn’t realise that walking was an option and was slightly concerned I wouldn’t be able to navigate and run! I think there’s an orienteering club quite near; I’ll have to do some research. Thanks for the link to your experiences as a newbie; I really like the idea of orienteering in the dark.


  2. TinaLouRuns says:

    Since my daughter took up football I’ve been quite tempted to take up some kind of team sport. Quite fancy Netball but am a bit short… Whilst I’m enjoying watching her football I don’t think I’d be any good somehow… I’ve always assumed injured runners become coaches / trainers!!!


    • Emma says:

      I love the fact there are so many more team sports open to girls now. Such a lot has changed for the better. At school it was either netball (my violin teacher banned me from taking part in case I broke a finger) or hockey (also banned) in the winter. In the summer I had the choice of cricket (still banned) or rounders (definitely banned!). Fortunately, I loved running so did cross country during the winter and the 5000m during the summer. I have looked at becoming a coach but I need to save up some money to attend a training course.


  3. Maria @runningcupcake says:

    I think Victoria Pendleton was forced to change by her dad- I saw a documentary about her and he was just mental- driving along ahead while she was cycling, threatening her with all sorts of things if she didn’t finish the workout. It seemed such a strange move that I think it must have come from him.
    Horses to me seem so unpredictable I would think I would be far more likely to be injured from falling off. I think I would go for hiking or long distance walking, I don’t mind cycling but I am not keen on going on the roads so that wouldn’t be for me.


    • Emma says:

      I didn’t know that about Victoria Pendleton and her father. I do wonder how many Olympians and other successful athletes had very pushy parents when they were younger. Horse racing is so different from cycling I suspect that you’re right. Horses are really unpredictable, that’s why I used to love riding so much. I only had a couple of nasty falls and both were completely my fault. At least my horse was polite and waited for me when I’d fallen off, my friends horse used to run off and was a nightmare to catch. I wouldn’t want to cycle on the roads where I live; there are far too many inconsiderate drivers. Long distance walking could be an option for me once my heel settles down.


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