Could an Olympic track star, such as Usain Bolt, see success in NFL Football, as a wide receiver or cornerback? Would their speed translate to NFL success? Or does olympic-gold-medal-winning sprinting speed not necessarily translate to NFL greatness?

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    Hi - welcome to the site. We try not to have opinion-based questions here; I've modified this question some to remove some of the unanswerable parts (Could Usain Bolt have succeeded, himself, is unlikely to be truly answerable), and we're discussing if this is otherwise answerable, in which case we will reopen it if it is. In general, you may want to read our faq and the help center to see what makes a good question here. Thanks, and welcome!
    – Joe
    Nov 30, 2020 at 17:15
  • Hi @Joe Ok, thanks! Hope we get an interesting answer :)
    – user20545
    Dec 1, 2020 at 8:35
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… certainly suggests it is possible...
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 1, 2020 at 18:45
  • It worked in Cool Runnings Dec 2, 2020 at 20:10

1 Answer 1


Track stars have been successful in the NFL in the past, but not necessarily pure track stars. Bullet Bob Hayes, for example, won two gold medals in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (one individual, one relay) and tied or set world records in both events; he then went on to have a long NFL career as a wide receiver, primarily with the Dallas Cowboys, and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Jim Thorpe won gold medals in the Pentathalon and Decathalon in the 1912 Stockholm Olypmics, and then went on to a career in the NFL and other sports, being part of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 1965 as a result. Several other current and former NFL players had track backgrounds, either at the college or occasionally Olympic levels.

What they have in common, though, is that they also played football in college. Hayes played for Florida A&M, and excelled, and Thorpe was a star player on the Carlisle football team. No track star has gone on to have a meaningful NFL career without prior football experience, although some have had only limited experience; more common of a transition has been basketball players, where several of the great tight ends of recent history have come from basketball - Antonio Gates for example played only basketball in college (though he had football experience from high school). A player like Usain Bolt would have challenges learning the different skills in football that are more complex than simply running fast, having zero football background.

The closest direct comparison to what you suggest is probably Jim Hines, who won gold in the 100M in 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round that year, and appeared in all of eleven games from 1969 to 1970, due to his lack of football skills.

Of course, the other comparison is to Usain Bolt himself, who did join a football team for a while - not American football, of course, but the Soccer variety. That failed miserably for similar reasons; he is a very, very fast man, but instincts and strategy can't be learned in a short period of time.

  • Herschel Walker might be a better-known example of a track star who also played football, though of course he never ran in the Olympics (though he did compete in the '92 Winter Olympics in bobsleigh, and his personal best of 10.23 seconds in the 100 from 1982 beat the time of the 1980 Olympic champion's, in a year the US boycotted, and would have been good for 4th place in 1984). Also notable: John Carlos and Tommie Smith (of Mexico City '68 fame) had brief CFL and NFL careers, respectively.
    – Kurt Weber
    Dec 3, 2020 at 22:56
  • @KurtWeber Walker was not a track superstar; he was very good, and perhaps could have become a track superstar, but he didn't fit the criteria of the question; the highest place I can find for him was seventh in the NCAA championships in that race you refer to.
    – Joe
    Dec 3, 2020 at 23:03
  • I would like to add Willie Gault to this list. Unlike Gault I think of Renaldo Nehemiah as hurdler first and an NFLer second, if only because he set a phenomenal WR in high hurdles, and was drafted (IIRC) only afterwards. This may be a Eurocentric T&F fan talking :-) Apr 4, 2021 at 7:15
  • If pure speed is the only thing a track star can bring with him, my common sense suggests that cornerback would be the logical position in football. After all, then you won't necessarily need good hands. Possibly a job as an MLB outfielder would be a better fit also? Apr 4, 2021 at 7:17

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