Vegetarian Olympic Champions

We’re happy to announce the first Gold and Silver Medals won by vegetarian and vegan athletes at the 2012 Olympics, with more expected soon.

The first silver medal was won by Lizzie Armitstead. She has just won the silver medal in the grueling 87-mile road cycling race, no less. Lizzie says “One of the most common misconceptions I’ve come across is that vegetarians are pallid, gentle creatures who would recoil in a tough sporting arena. Despite the fact I was breaking school records on the track, people still questioned my diet’s ability to make me strong.”  She subsequently moved on to focus on long distance cycling.

Vegan tennis star Venus Williams, who recently won the 2012 Wimbledon women’s doubles title with her sister Serena, has been following a vegan diet since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome last fall, and now has just won a Gold Medal at the Olympics.  Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain and affects some 4 million Americans. There is no cure. Venus, 32, dramatically overhauled her diet to deal with the chronic fatigue caused by her condition and says that “changing my diet has made a big difference, I’ve made huge improvements since I was first diagnosed, so that has been huge for me, and it’s a journey that I continue on.”

We’re expecting more medals to be won by vegetarians soon!

Many people are surprised to learn that vegetarians and vegans are nothing new in the world of Olympic medalists,  so we thought we’d give a selection of medalists from the veg hall of fame from both the summer and winter Olympics.

Edwin Moses was a force to be reckoned with in the track and field arena. He won gold medals in the 400m hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics. He won 107 consecutive finals in 122 consecutive races and set the world record in his event four times. Moses is a confirmed vegetarian, humanitarian and advocate for peace. He has been chairman of Laureus World Sports Academy since 2000, and promotes the use of sports as a tool for social change around the world.

Ronda Rousey was the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo in 2008.  Although she has occasionally equivocated, after winning the bronze medal she was asked about her diet and said firmly “I am a vegan.” She became an MMA fighter in August of 2010 and is currently the Strikeforce women’s bantemweight champion and #1 ranked 135-pound female MMA fighter in the world.

Chris Campbell is a world champion and Olympic bronze medalist wrestler. He is a pure vegetarian and one of the oldest men to win an Olympic medal. At the age of 37, he won the bronze medal for the 1992 Olympic team in Barcelona, Spain. Campbell is a very unique individual, He practices Zen and dabbles in poetry. He’s a vegetarian who likes nothing better than tofu stroganoff. He leg-presses 700 pounds, meditates, and quotes everything from The Sermon On the Mount to The Teachings of Buddha.

Hannah Teter is a vegetarian and also a gold and silver Olympic medalist for snowboarding. Hannah says, “I feel stronger than I’ve ever been, mentally, physically, and emotionally. My plant-based diet has opened up more doors to being an athlete. It’s a whole other level that I’m elevating to. I stopped eating animals about a year ago, and it’s a new life. I feel like a new person, a new athlete.”

Carl Lewis is probably the most well known, historic vegan Olympian in the world or at least the U.S. He won 10 Olympic medals, 9 of which were gold. His Olympic career ran from 1979 to 1996. He wrote an introduction for Jannequin Bennett in her book “Very Vegetarian” saying, “It’s a myth that muscles, strength and endurance require the consumption of large quantities of animal-based foods. This myth began before anyone even talked about protein.” He ended his introduction with, “Your body is your temple. If you nourish it properly, it will be good to you and you will increase its longevity.”

Paavo Nurmi is one of the greatest distance runners in history. The ‘Flying Finn’ won nine gold medals in long-distance running events during the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, including the 1,500m and 5,000m on the same afternoon in Paris in 1924.

Emil Voigt was the last British man to win a gold medal for long-distance running at the Olympics, in 1908 in London. Voigt was a writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, as well as a dedicated vegetarian.

Bode Miller has been a vegetarian since birth. He has won five medals in the Winter Olympics for different ski disciplines. His diet has not really changed since he now owns his own organic farm, similar to the one he had growing up. According to Bode, “We grew our own produce. It was all organic.” His organic farm is in New Hampshire. He is an advocate for sustainable food, farming and living.

Murray Rose is fondly remembered as one of the world’s most historic vegan athletes. He was Australia’s Olympic swimming star. He had set 15 world records and won six Olympic medals, including four golds, which made him a sports legend and hero in Australia. During Rose’s long career he ate a vegan diet and followed a vegan lifestyle. In 1958 he told Groucho Marx on the radio program “You Bet Your Life” that his gold medals in 1956 could be attributed to his veganism.