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Top 10 multi-sport athletes

Alex Perry
September 11, 2013
Swing and a miss: Michael Jordan turns out for the Chicago White Sox © AP
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Like a lot of footballers, Andriy Shevchenko is well-known for his love of golf. And this week, Ukraine's all-time leading scorer and AC Milan uber-legend tees up for his pro debut on the Challenge Tour's Kharkov Superior Cup.

Here we present 10 more stars who changed sports - to varying degrees of success…

10. Julian Dicks, Jimmy Bullard, Gary O'Neil

Football and Golf

Shevchenko isn't the first footballer-turned-golfer. Having spent most of his career hacking at strikers ankles, former West Ham and Liverpool defender Dicks turned his attention to hacking around golf courses. He soon turned professional but was forced to give it up through persistent knee injuries. He returned to football and is currently the manager of Sealand, an unrecognised principality several miles off the Suffolk coast. Sealand's national team is an associate member for the NF Board - an organisation for teams who are not members of FIFA.

Bullard has had a touch more success since turning to golf - in that he has actually managed to compete in some events. The former Wigan man quit football due to injury and took to the fairways to fill the "painful hole" in his life that was now "void of buzz and fun". Bullard has so far played three events on the developmental PGA EuroPro Tour, but is yet to make a cut.

O'Neil, meanwhile, is still very much in his footballing prime, but spent last summer trying to qualify for the Open Championship. He failed, and wisely decided to stick to football. For now…

9. Lawrence Okoye

Discus and American Football

Okoye's NFL career has been stalled by injury © AP
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A promising rugby union player as a junior, the South Londoner set his sights on competing at the 2012 Olympic Games and, specifically, the discus.

In his first international outing, he came sixth at the 2010 World Junior Championships before going on to win gold at the European Athletics Under-23 Championships a year later at the age of 19. But the Olympics in his hometown did not go according to the script as Okoye placed 12th in the final with a throw of 61.03 metres - a distance he described as "extremely disappointing".

A few months later, Okoye expressed his interest in playing American football. Despite having never played the sport, the 21-year-old impressed NFL teams ahead of the draft earlier this year and was signed by the San Francisco 49ers. He is yet to play a game, however, after picking up an injury during pre-season.

8. Andy Goram

Football and Cricket

A sufferer of a mild form of schizophrenia, the Scot was regularly subject to the cries of "There's only two Andy Gorams!" - which later was the title of a book documenting humorous terrace chants. Ironic, then, that Goram represented his country at more than one sport.

The goalkeeper's football career spanned 23 years, most notably with Rangers, and he earned 43 caps for Scotland. Goram also represented his country in four first-class cricket matches - twice in 1989 and twice in 1991. Surprisingly, he was not the wicket-keeper, opting instead to show off his medium-pace bowling attack.

Goram's latest career in public speaking took a turn for the worse this week, when his show with Frank McAvennie in Glasgow was cancelled with only ten tickets sold.

7. Curtis Woodhouse

Football and Boxing

A Football League journeyman, including notable stints at Sheffield United, Birmingham City and Peterborough, Woodhouse decided to turn his attentions to the ring after announcing he had "fallen out of love" with football.

But his boxing career could not have got off to a worse start after being suspended for five months by the British Boxing Board of Control before he had even made his professional debut after being convicted of assaulting a police officer in April 2006.

He returned to football and signed for the now-defunct Rushden & Diamonds and, once his ban was served, juggled both sports. The 33-year-old's record as a professional boxer currently stands at 16-3, 11 by knock-out, and is the reigning International Masters light-welterweight champion.

Woodhouse hit the headlines again in February of this year when he received a series of abusive messages on Twitter from a teenager named James O'Brien. When one of O'Brien's so-called friends sent his address to Woodhouse, the boxer drove hundreds of miles to his home to confront the troll, even posting a picture proving he was on his street. O'Brien never appeared and took to the social networking site to apologise and the pair never met face to face.

6. Ian Botham

Cricket and Football

England's finest all-rounder of all time, scoring 14 centuries and taking a record 383 Test wickets, everyone's favourite breakfast cereal salesman also turned out for Scunthorpe United.

A friend who watched Botham play for a local pub side recommended he come and try out for The Iron. Within a week, manager Ron Ashman had signed up the man we call 'Beefy' who went on to play 11 times in the Football League.

"The authorities didn't really appreciate me playing against Hull on Boxing Day then flying to the West Indies 24 hours later to captain England," Botham said. "But there were no central contracts back then… and I didn't really care what the authorities thought."

Aussie rules: Ellyse Perry is a sporting phenomenon © AFP
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5. Ellyse Perry

Cricket and Football

Perry has represented Australia 108 times - including four Test matches, 57 ODIs and 47 Twenty20s - scoring 798 runs and taking 136 wickets. She is also a star defender for Sydney Football Club and has played 18 times for her country, scoring four goals.

Perry is the youngest person, male or female, to represent Australia in cricket and the first Australian woman to have appeared in both cricket and football World Cups. She was part of the cricket teams which won the 2010 World Twenty20 and the 2013 World Cup.

Perry has accepted in interviews that she will one day have to choose between the two sports, but for now is pursuing both. There have been a number of conflictions, including the World Twenty20 and Asian Cup in 2010. She chose cricket.

In 2012, the chief executive of Canberra United Football Club handed her an ultimatum. She promptly signed for Sydney, who came to an agreement with Perry's club cricket side, the NSW Breakers, to allow her to compete in both sports.

She is still only 22.

4. Alessandro Zanardi

Motor Racing and Paralympic Cycling

The most heart-rending and inspirational of our Top 10. Starting out with a rather unsuccessful Formula One career, the Italian switched between various motorsport classes, notably CART and touring cars, to much greater effect.

But Zanardi's world came tumbling down in 2001 when he was involved in a violent CART collision with Alex Tagliani, destroying his single-seater car. Zanardi lost three-quarters of his blood volume in the crash and only the quick thinking of the medical staff on the scene saved his life. The accident cost Zanardi both his legs. Zanardi returned to motor racing, using a specially-designed car featuring hand-operated brakes and accelerator and even won a world series race in 2005.

But it was at last year's Paralympic Games that Zanardi captured the hearts of the watching world.

Having taken up handbiking, a form of Paralympic cycling, with the sole intention of competing in London, Zanardi took gold in both the individual time trial and the individual road race, as well as silver in the mixed team relay.

3. Rebecca Romero

Rowing and Cycling

Starting out in rowing, Romero earned a silver medal in the quadruple sculls at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, before going on to win gold in the same class at the World Championships a year later.

But a persistent back injury forced Romero to quit rowing and she decided to try her hand at cycling. As it turned out, she was pretty good at that too, winning silver at both the 2006 Track World Cup - her international cycling debut - and her first Cycling World Championships a year later. At the 2008 Track World Cup, Romero won gold in the individual and team pursuit events.

Then, in Beijing, Romero became the first British woman to ever compete in two different sports at the Olympics. Not only that, she won gold in the individual pursuit and became only the second woman in history - after Germany's Roswitha Krause - to win a medal in two different sports at the Summer Games.

Unfortunately, the individual pursuit was dropped from the Olympic programme, meaning Romero was unable to defend her title in her hometown of London in 2012 - a decision she labelled "ludicrous".

Romero is now studying for an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition at the University of Chester.

2. Michael Jordan

Basketball and Baseball

Air Jordan returns as No. 45 © AP
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The Chicago Bulls shooting guard was - and still is - the greatest player to ever grace a basketball court. Not only was he a six-time NBA champion, ten-time NBA top scorer, multiple recipient of the MVP award and two-time gold medallist, he also helped Bugs Bunny and the rest of Looney Tunes overcome the evil Monstars in Space Jam.

However, in 1993, Jordan announced his retirement from basketball and, in honour of his late father, who always envisioned Jordan as a Major League Baseball star, he signed for the Chicago White Sox. It did not go to plan due to not actually being very good, and he never made it to the major leagues, instead spending a season with the Birmingham Barons in the minor leagues and a brief spell with the Scottsdale Scorpions in a developmental league.

In 1995, His Airness issued a press release which simply read: "I'm back." Playing basketball, that is.

Bizarrely, the Bulls had retired his famous No. 23 shirt in his honour after his first retirement. So on his return he was forced to wear No. 45 - the number he had worn during his baseball career in college and the pros.

1. Jim Thorpe

Pentathlon, Decathlon, American Football, Baseball and Basketball

While Jordan made the list for his ill-advised decision, Thorpe pips him to No. 1 for being easily the finest sportsman to ever grace the planet. And what a story it is...

Thorpe first gained nationwide recognition while at college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when he scored all his team's points as they beat Harvard - one of the top-ranked American football teams. He also dominated in baseball, lacrosse and track and field for his school.

Thorpe stormed to fame at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, where he won gold in both the pentathlon and decathlon. Soon after, at the All-Around Championship in New York, he won seven of the ten events and finished second in the other three to amass 7,476 points, a new decathlon world record. The previous holder, Martin Sheridan, described Thorpe as "the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today."

However, in 1913, a newspaper revealed Thorpe had competed professionally for baseball side Rocky Mount prior to his Olympic success. Playing professional sport was common among college students during the summer break but it meant Thorpe broke the Games' amateurism rules.

The Amateur Athletic Union and the International Olympic committee made the decision to strip Thorpe of his gold medals - all for earning around $2 a day, roughly $50 today, to play baseball.

Undeterred, Thorpe joined the world's most famous baseball team, the New York Giants, where he helped them to the 1913 National League title. He had also not given up on American football, and in 1915 joined the Canton Bulldogs, who paid Thorpe $250 - $5,600 today - per game. He helped them to titles in 1916, 1917 and 1919.

Thorpe then became the first president of the 14-team American Professional Football Association - which would later go on to become the National Football League (NFL).

But that's not all, folks, because in 2005 it was discovered that Thorpe also played professional basketball for a team known as Jim Thorpe and His World Famous Indians who would travel up and down the east coast entertaining crowds - an early version of the Harlem Globetrotters, if you will.

Away from sport he also won the Ballroom Dancing Championship, just to confirm his status as the world's finest all-rounder.

In 1982, the IOC decided to overturn its decision to withdraw Thorpe's gold medals - which was particularly unhelpful on two counts: Firstly, Thorpe had been dead for 30 years. And secondly, the medals had been stolen from a museum and never recovered.

Jim Thorpe: Arguably the finest all-round sportsman who ever lived © PA Photos
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Alex Perry is an assistant editor at ESPN and tweets at @AlexPerryESPN

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