World Cup stars who played in Olympics (photos)

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Soccer has mostly been a showcase for youth at the Olympics, with a rule limiting nations to a maximum of three players over age 23.

That has somewhat leveled the playing field — Nigeria and Cameroon won gold medals in 1996 and 2000 — and also provided international tournament experience to players would go on to become World Cup stars. This is apparent when looking at the 2014 World Cup squads.

One non-household name, the oldest player at the 2014 World Cup, 42-year-old Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, was on Colombia’s roster at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Here’s a gallery of this year’s World Cup stars who double as Olympians:

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FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo scored one goal for Portugal at the 2004 Olympics when he was 19, two years before his World Cup debut. Portugal is best known at those Athens Games for being upset by Iraq in their opener and being eliminated in the group stage.

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Four-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi (seen here with World Cup teammate Sergio Aguero) scored twice during Argentina’s run to 2008 Olympic gold.

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Neymar, the star of the World Cup host nation, scored three times at the London Olympics. But Brazil couldn’t overcome Mexico in the gold-medal game. Brazil and Mexico will face off again at the World Cup on June 17.

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Recognize this American? That’s Michael Bradley, before he went bald, at the 2008 Olympics (with Japanese star Shinji Kagawa, also set to play at the World Cup). The U.S. failed to advance out of group play in 2008 (and didn’t qualify for the 2004 or 2012 Olympics). Also on that 2008 U.S. team were World Cup players Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan. No. 1 U.S. goalie Tim Howard was on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team that finished fourth, but he didn’t play (alas, no photos readily available). Omission Landon Donovan, too, was on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, when he had blond hair.

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Polarizing striker Luis Suarez was an over-23 player at the London Games, but it didn’t do Uruguay much good. The South American nation that made the 2010 World Cup semifinals lost to Senegal and failed to make it out of group.

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Xavi scored twice for silver medal-winning Spain at the 2000 Olympics, two years before he made his first World Cup team in 2002. The midfield maestro is pictured here with longtime South Korean star Park Ji-sung, who played at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

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Samuel Eto’o and Cameroon beat Xavi and Spain in the 2000 Olympic final. Both players scored in regulation (a 2-2 draw) and converted penalty kicks.

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Giovani dos Santos was part of Mexico’s gold-medal team at the 2012 Olympics, scoring three goals, but missed the final against Brazil due to injury.

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Andrea Pirlo is a two-time Olympian for Italy. He played in 2000, when Italy was eliminated by Xavi and Spain in the quarterfinals, and in 2004, when Italy won bronze. Also of note for Italy, longtime goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was the youngest member of its 1996 Olympic roster at age 18.

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Didier Drogba is not an Olympian, but the Ivory Coast striker did take part in the 2012 Olympic torch relay.

Remembering the ‘Ohno celebration’ at 2002 World Cup

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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