Multi-sport marvels
by Lucas Aykroyd & Martin Merk|23 JUN 2021
Soviet legend Vsevolod Bobrov captained the national football team at the 1952 Olympics and the national ice hockey team at the 1956 Olympics. He’s pictured on the left as hockey player in 1956, and standing right as Dynamo Moscow football player at a game in London in 1945.
photo: RIA Novosti
As we celebrate Olympic Day worldwide on 23 June, it’s an amazingly busy time on the sports calendar, even though the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship wrapped up more than two weeks ago.

The Stanley Cup finals are almost here. For football fans, Euro 2020 is in full swing. And the Tokyo Summer Olympics will kick off in exactly a month. After that it’s time for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Therefore, it’s a great time for ice hockey fans to celebrate hockey stars who kept amazingly busy – by excelling at other sports.

Central and Eastern Europe yielded multiple multi-sport marvels in the mid-20th century. Take Vsevolod Bobrov. After putting the USSR on the global hockey map by leading them to their first-ever IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship title in Stockholm in 1954, he became the only athlete ever to captain both the Soviet Olympic football and ice hockey teams. Bobrov achieved that distinction at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics and 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter Olympics (gold), topping the latter tournament with nine goals. In addition, he was an elite bandy player.

This extraordinarily versatile goal-scorer was, interestingly, first exposed to hockey at age 22 in Great Britain in 1945 while on tour with Dynamo Moscow’s football club. Bobrov, who also coached the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series and won the 1973 and 1974 Worlds behind the bench, was elected to the inaugural 1997 IIHF Hall of Fame class.

Combining hockey with high-level football also came naturally to other Soviet luminaries. Mikhail Bychkov – a 1954 world champion, 1955 Worlds silver medalist, and 1960 Olympic bronze medalist in hockey – captured the 1949 Soviet Cup with Torpedo Moscow and played football in the summer right up until 1954, when he decided to specialize in hockey. Vladimir Elizarov, a 1958 Worlds silver medalist who later discovered Boris Mikhailov and invited him to join CSKA Moscow, also won Soviet championships in football and bandy. Yuri Blinov, who peaked in 1972 with the Summit Series and Olympic gold and World Championship silver, won Moscow-area football scoring titles as a youngster.

And of course, there’s Arkadi Chernyshev. The groundbreaking Dynamo Moscow coach – inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1999 – is best-known for guiding the USSR to four Olympic hockey gold medals (1956, 1964, 1968, 1972) and 11 World titles between 1954 and 1971. However, in the 1930s and ‘40s, while Chernyshev also played ice hockey for Dynamo Moscow, he distinguished himself as a midfielder in football with both Dynamo Moscow and FC Minsk, winning USSR football titles with the former in 1937 and 1940 and with the latter in 1947. He also captured five USSR bandy championships. As with Bobrov, one of the KHL’s four divisions is named after Chernyshev.

There’s also an example of multi-sports athlete much more famous in football. From 1950 to 1953, Lev Yashin – arguably international football’s all-time greatest goalkeeper – suited up as a hockey netminder for Dynamo Moscow winning the USSR Cup and bronze at the Soviet ice hockey championship on top of his vast medals and honours in football. The only ice hockey player to win the Soviet championship in three sports was former Dynamo Moscow forward Vasili Trofimov, who also succeeded in football and bandy.

In Czechoslovakia, Vlastimil Bubnik built a superb hockey legacy. The Brno sniper, an 11-time national champion, was the leading goal-scorer at the 1954 Worlds (11) and 1955 Worlds (17). Even more notably, the 1960 Olympic bronze medalist became the all-time leading points-getter (36) in Olympic history, tied with Canada’s Harry Watson and the USSR’s Valeri Kharlamov, until they were all surpassed by Finland’s Teemu Selanne at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Bubnik, though, also played 11 Czechoslovak national team football games and enjoyed a long career in his country’s top football league.

Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia was also producing master puckhandlers who wielded tennis rackets with equal ease in Jaroslav Drobny and Vladimir Zabrodsky.
Jaroslav Drobny (middle among the players) and Vladimir Zabrodsky (right) in Brazil in 1948 with their David Cup team.
Little better illustrates Drobny’s talent than his decision to play for his country on home ice in his native Prague when the Worlds took place there in 1947. Drobny had been obliged to pull out of a multi-month tennis tour of India due to a sore elbow, but he didn’t let that stop him from scoring a whopping 15 goals in seven games – including a hat trick in the decisive 6-1 win over the Americans – as Czechoslovakia earned its first Worlds gold medal ever.

Drobny also won silver at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, but declined an opportunity to play for the Boston Bruins. After defecting from his Communist homeland and taking Egyptian citizenship, he attained new heights in tennis, winning the French Open in 1951 and 1952 and the 1954 Wimbledon championship. 

Interestingly, Drobny once had Austria’s Alfred Huber as a tennis doubles partner. Huber also still ranks among the all-time youngest male Worlds (16, 1947) and Olympic ice hockey (17, 1948) players in the IIHF Record Book. Like Drobny, he represented his country in the Davis Cup in tennis, as did German hockey legend Gustav Janecke (a three-time hockey Olympian who won bronze in Lake Placid 1932).

Zabrodsky, a fellow IIHF Hall of Famer who passed away at 97 in 2020, was Drobny’s teammate at the 1947 Worlds and 1948 Olympics. Zabrodsky also captained the 1949 World Championship gold medalists in Stockholm. He was a prolific marksman, scoring 26 of the Czechoslovakians’ 85 goals in 1947 and 23 of their 80 goals at the ‘48 Winter Games. A longtime member of the Czechoslovakian Davis Cup team (1948, 1954, 1995), he achieved a singles highlight by winning two matches against Belgium in the first round in 1955. Ten years later, Zabrodsky would defect to Sweden, where he coached Leksands IF, Rogle BK, and Djurgardens IF and lived out the rest of his days.

Sweden also had its share of 20th-century multi-sport marvels. The legendary Sven Bergqvist suited up for Tre Kronor at the 1935 and 1938 Worlds and the 1936 Winter Olympics, but the 1999-inducted IIHF Hall of Famer also dazzled as Hammarby Stockholm’s goalkeeper, earning 35 caps with the Swedish national football team. Bergqvist also starred in bandy and handball, and was invited to represent Sweden in the latter sport at the 1936 Summer Olympics but went there for the football team and thus played two Olympics in the same year! Remarkably, after ending up in a wheelchair after a 1955 car accident, Bergqvist took up archery and had a chance to compete at the 1960 Paralympics, but passed it up, since he would have had to pay all his own costs.

Even better-known was 1997-inducted IIHF Hall of Famer Sven “Tumba” Johansson. This man could truly do it all. The two-time ice hockey Olympian (1952 bronze, 1964 silver), who won gold at three Worlds (1953, 1957, 1962), suited up for one international game against Norway for the national football team in 1956 (and became Swedish champion with Djurgarden in 1959) and even became the Swedish waterskiing champion. But Tumba’s greatest impact outside hockey came in golf. Not only did he represent his country at the 1974 World Cup in Venezuela, but he also popularized the sport all over Sweden, putting on exhibitions with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, designing golf courses, and starting new tournaments.
Sven Tumba Johansson, Boris Mayorov and Vlastimil Bubnik at the podium of the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. Both Tumba and Bubnik also played football for their national teams.
photo: Le Studio du Hockey / Hockey Hall of Fame
The classic Canadian cliche about what hockey players do after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, of course, involves golfing. And the motherland of hockey has produced several NHLers who also excelled at golf. They include the likes of “Wild Bill” Ezinicki, a three-time Cup champion with Toronto (1947-49), who won two New England PGA titles (1956, 1958) after retiring from the NHL, and Dan Quinn, an 805-game NHLer who represented Canada at the 1987 Worlds in Vienna, and then won the PGA Celebrity Tour’s American Century Championships four times in six years.

However, among multi-sport Canadian hockey players, Lionel Conacher deserves a paragraph of his own.

In 1954, Conacher was honoured as Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century, and it wasn’t just for having two Hockey Hall of Fame younger siblings in Charlie Conacher and Roy Conacher. Lionel Conacher, as a defenceman, became one of just eight NHLers all-time to win back-to-back Stanley Cups with different franchises (1934 Chicago Black Hawks, 1935 Montreal Maroons). But back in 1921, he not only won the Grey Cup with the Canadian football champion Toronto Argonauts, but also fought legendary boxer Jack Dempsey in an exhibition match. Lionel Conacher went on to win national boxing, lacrosse, and wrestling titles. As a member of the Canadian Parliament, he died tragically young at age 54 in 1954. Yet his legacy lives on with the Lionel Conacher Award, which the Canadian Press awards annually to Canada’s top male athlete.
NHLer Lionel Conacher was a multi-sport athlete, here wrestling an opponent.
photo: Turofsky / Hockey Hall of Fame
The only hockey player to play in another major sports league in North America was Canadian Jim Riley. The native of Bayfield, New Brunswick won his only Stanley Cup with the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917 just before the NHL was founded but toward the end of his career he left Seattle to play the 1926/1927 NHL season with nine games for the Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Cougars. His baseball career happened mostly in minor leagues but he also played six MLB games with the St. Louis Browns in 1921 and the Washington Senators in 1923.

Finland isn’t known as an elite football country by any means – its qualification for Euro 2020, for instance, was the first in its history. However, Finland’s Kari Eloranta, a three-time Olympian who won silver on defence at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games and a four-time Worlds participant, also won two national football titles with his native Lahti – one of them in the same year after competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And then there’s TPS Turku’s biggest legend, Timo Nummelin, who won Finnish championships with the club in both ice hockey and football. While he was better known in ice hockey where he appeared in 225 international games including eight IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, he also had 14 appearances with the football national team and became Finnish player of the year in both sports.

Several countries outside the traditional hockey powers have spawned noteworthy multi-sport men, especially in football.

Latvian great Arvids Jurgens was a four-sport wonder. In addition to playing high-level basketball and bandy, Jurgens represented his homeland in football at the 1924 Summer Olympics and in ice hockey at the 1936 Olympics, not to mention the 1933 and 1935 IIHF Worlds. Romania can lay claim to Andrei Barbulescu, who enjoyed the amazing double whammy of playing at the 1938 FIFA World Cup and also at the 1947 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, and Mihai Flamaropol, who was best-known as a Bucharest-born footballer, but joined Barbulescu on the ‘47 Worlds team and continued to play hockey till age 40.

As for Switzerland, Francis Blank played top-level football and hockey in Neuchatel, and represented Switzerland in hockey at the 1952 Olympics and three World Championships (1953-55). And Blank’s teammate Mike Speidel, who cracked the Swiss national hockey team as a centre, also played both sports and enjoyed some elite football highlights, such as playing for his hometown FC Basel in the UEFA European Cup and taking on Pele’s FC Santos in a Basel exhibition game.

Women’s hockey players impress as modern-day multi-sports athletes

Women’s hockey players have also achieved incredible multi-sport feats, and Switzerland’s Katrin Lehmann is one good example. Appointed as an assistant coach for Switzerland’s 2021 Women’s Worlds squad in Calgary, Lehmann, 41, has enjoyed a great hockey career as a forward, suiting up in 2020/21 for Germany’s ESC Planegg. The two-time Olympian (2006, 2010) won a bronze medal in her last of seven Women’s Worlds appearances in 2012 in Burlington, Vermont. Yet she has also stepped up as a football goalkeeper with Germany’s FC 2001 Duisburg, winning the 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup. As well, she played for FFC Wacker Munchen and Bayern Munich and for the Swiss women’s national team.
Kathrin Lehmann made scoring goals in ice hockey and preventing them in football her profession.
photo: Dave Sandford / HHOF-IIHF Images, Andy Mueller / EQ Images / Keystone
Further off the beaten path, Camille Balanche, who represented Switzerland in women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympics, recently made a dramatic switch to World Cup mountain biking, winning the women’s downhill at the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at age 30.
Camille Balanche swapped her hockey equipment for a mountain bike and is a defending world champion.
photo: Josh Holmberg / HHOF-IIHF Images, Alessandro della Valle / Keystone
Hayley Wickenheiser, a 2019 IIHF Hall of Fame inductee widely viewed as the greatest women’s hockey player in history, is renowned as a six-time Olympian. Five of those Olympic participations came at the Winter Games as her Team Canada won silver in 1998 and then four straight golds from 2002 to 2014. However, the native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan also cracked the Canadian women’s softball roster at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, achieving the team’s best batting average.
Better known for ice hockey, Hayley Wickenheiser competed in one of her six Olympics in softball in 2000.
photo: Bernard Weil / Toronto Star via Getty Images
Undoubtedly, one of Finland’s all-time most versatile athletes is Susanna Tapani. Not only does the 28-year-old hockey forward own a 2018 Olympic bronze medal and a 2019 Women’s Worlds silver medal (2019) and three bronzes (2011, 2015, 2017), but she also captains the Finnish national ringette team, and captured four golds at the world championships in the 2010s. Tapani also joins fellow lionesses Annina Rajahuhta and Minttu Tuominen on the national inline hockey team. They achieved Finland’s first world championship medal ever (bronze) in that sport in 2017.

Hockey off the ice

Ball hockey, a Canadian staple on streets and playgrounds, has attracted stars like Geraldine Heaney, sometimes dubbed the “Bobby Orr of women’s hockey.” Born in Northern Ireland, Heaney played in two World Ball Hockey Championships (gold 1992, silver 1994), and also participated in two kinds of football, European soccer and Gaelic football. Of course, the high-flying defender is best-known as a 2002 Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion. Heaney joined Angela James and Cammi Granato as part of the inaugural female class inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008.

Alex Burrows, who helped the Vancouver Canucks make it to the 2011 Stanley Cup final and also played for Canada at the 2014 Worlds, doubled as a ball hockey superstar in his early minor-pro days. He won world titles in Sierre, Switzerland in 2003 and Pittsburgh, USA in 2005.

The list of hockey stars who have excelled at inline hockey is long and impressive. It includes German Olympians Michael Wolf, Felix Schutz, and Thomas Greilinger. Swiss goalie Martin Gerber, who made history with his 2-0 shutout over Canada at the 2006 Turin Winter Games and won silver at the 2013 Worlds, became an inline hockey world champion as a goalie in 1999 but later scored goals in inline hockey as a forward.

Even bigger NHL names who have laced up their roller blades include Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist and the Czech Republic’s Karel Rachunek and Ales Hemsky, the latter of whom played under his father Petr Hemsky.
Recognize him? A 20-year-old Henrik Lundqvist (middle) led Sweden to inline hockey gold in the final against Finland in 2002.
photo: IIHF Archive
How about field hockey? Here, too, we find cross-over athletes. Switzerland’s Rudolf Keller was an Olympian in both field hockey (1952) and ice hockey (1956). Keller also played at three consecutive IIHF Worlds (1953-55), winning a bronze medal on his first try. His countryman Elvin Friedrich captained Switzerland at the 1962 Worlds and 1964 Winter Olympics, and also played 21 games for the national field hockey team, although he didn’t make it to the Summer Olympics.

And we can’t overlook Huib Du Pon, who not only suited up for the Netherlands at the 1935 and 1939 Worlds, but also coached the national field hockey team from 1948 to 1950, winning bronze at the 1948 Olympics in London. In addition, he competed in rowing.

Champions from other sports go on ice

Beyond these Olympic and World Championship-level prodigies, we also have examples of world-class athletes from other sports who played ice hockey at the domestic league level or lower levels.

Czech football goalkeeper Petr Cech – a Premier League superstar with Chelsea and Arsenal – made his 2019 hockey debut in net for the Guildford Phoenix of England’s NIHL Division 2, wearing Dominik Hasek’s #39 as a tribute.
Two years ago legendary Czech football goalie Petr Cech played his first official ice hockey game.
photo: Ian Walton / Keystone / Press Association Images
England’s Ashley Jackson, a European champion in field hockey, also played ice hockey at the second level in Great Britain for six seasons, mostly with the Invicta Dynamos. During that time Jackson also suited up for GB at the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship.
Ashley Jackson, a European champion in field hockey, moved to the ice later in his career.
photo: Tomas Karpov
Czech speed skater Karolina Erbanova, a 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in the 500-metre race, was recently invited to a camp of the national ice hockey team. She started competing for second-tier team HC Jicin in 2019 and will join Almtuna IS in Sweden next season.

Bulgaria’s Amalia Koleva is a world champion in Taekwon-Do, but she has also competed for her national hockey team since its 2008/09 launch, including the infamous 82-0 loss to Slovakia in Olympic qualifying play that season, until Bulgaria’s most recent participation at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III.
A world champion in Taekwon-Do, Amalia Koleva has also been playing for the Bulgarian women’s ice hockey national team for many years.
photo: Kostadin Andonov
When you keep digging, oddities keep coming up. Did you know that Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, a 1995 World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves, was drafted by the L.A. Kings in 1984 as a forward (fourth round, 69th overall)? Or that Gerry James, a running back with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, won the Grey Cup versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1959 and lost the 1960 Stanley Cup final with the Toronto Maple Leafs to Montreal? That made James the only player ever to compete in both those championships in a single season.

There are so many what-ifs when it comes to multi-sport athletes. For instance, Wayne Gretzky was an accomplished track athlete and starred at baseball. What if “The Great One” had gone the route of another 1961-born Ontarian, Kirk McCaskill, and ended up as an MLB ace? We’ll never know.

Yet on Olympic Day, we can definitely salute ice hockey players from all ages and genders all over the world who showed their passion and skill not only on the ice, but also on the fields and courts of other sports.