Vegan Olympians: Too Good to Check?
Misleading or false stories (eg an offensive video game based on a real manhunt for a serial killer) can spread across the media because, with pressure on journalists to find good stories quickly, they were “too good to check”.
So if professional journalists don’t always check their facts, it’s no surprise that bloggers can relax their criteria, especially when motivated to show that athletic feats can be powered by a plant based diet.
Before and during the London Olympic Games sites including EcoRazzi, VegNews, FourGreenSteps, and BigCityVegan posted lists of vegetarian and vegan athletes and Olympians. In our Olympics show we talked about some vegan Olympians I could verify (talking with the athletes or their representatives when possible) but you let us know about some others.
As a caveat, sometimes you don’t hear about athletes being vegan until things have quieted down. For example, Amy Walsh and Kara Lang (hear Kara Lang interview), ethical vegans, used to play football for Canada and are now planning to release a book together.
(Update 25 Jul 2013: As if to make that point, nor did I hear about Seba Johnson (@SebaJohnson on Twitter), a life vegan who represented the US Virgin Islands in Alpine Skiing at the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics.)
So, here is a list of Olympians who featured on one of those four lists as vegan, with what my research turned up. Thanks to listener Marcus Dredge who joined in the fact-checking.
Carl Lewis (Athletics, 1992) – True
He definitely turned vegan in 1991 and won gold on a vegan diet – he talks about it in books and on video.
Ronda Rousey (Judo, 2008) – Mostly False
Although she committed to being vegan after winning a Bronze medal in 2008, she now talks about her veganism in the past tense. So I think it could be misleading to include her.
Murray Rose (Swimmer, 1956/60) – Probably Partially False
This great Australian swimmer of the 1950s and ’60s was brought up on a wholefood vegetarian diet. EcoRazzi says:
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.
Their citation goes to a 2012 obituary that says Murray Rose was vegan – but not to one that says where its source comes from.
One of our intrepid listeners, Marcus Dredge, found a 1961 interview with Sports Illustrated where he talks about eating yoghurt and goat’s milk. So mixed evidence – perhaps he was vegan in 1956 and 2012 but not 1961. It would be nice to get a direct reference to You Bet Your Life.
Charlene Wong (Figure Skater, 1988
1998) – Probably True , Need Reference
Although EcoRazzi only quote her saying in 2008 that she wasn’t vegetarian any more, she did tell a Skating podcast she was vegan for many years.
It would be nice to get a reference for this being the case when she competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics, which is I assume why EcoRazzi included her.
Update 18:19 GMT: Charlene Wong herself (verified) has commented to describe herself as vegan bar leather skates and occasional dairy milk in coffee/tea. Thanks, Charlene.
Venus and Serena Williams (Tennis, 2012) – Half True
We mentioned in our first Olympic show that Venus Williams said she was a “vegan who cheated” (press conferences), and Serena was “more raw than vegan, but close” (we asked her people).
I only researched vegan athletes and not the longer list of vegetarian athletes mentioned in the blogosphere.
There is a stereotype of vegans being obsessed with whether or not people are “really” vegan, like Diana mentioned before and will no doubt discuss in our next show, about judgement. But we both believe in having accurate information.
Finally, I know our listeners can find out a lot more than I can alone and some of you may even know vegan athletes and Olympians personally. We are grateful for your comments, tweets and fact finding.
Funny you say to check your facts . . . Charlene Wong skated in the 1988 Olympics, not 1998. 🙂
I try, but I’m not perfect. Though if any post needed double-checking for typos, this was the one! Thanks for pointing it out.
Hi 🙂 This is Charlene Wong. I have been a vegatarian for almost 30 years and I would be considered by some to be vegan but I wear leather skates and ocasionally drink dairy in coffee/ tea. 🙂 I was in the ’88 Olympics for Canada.
I was hoping for someone to turn up with a reference – but it’s great to have you turn up and set the record straight yourself. So thank you for commenting!
I’ve corrected it.
My pleasure 🙂
Thank you Ian for tirelessly getting to the bottom of things. Our information is only as good as our sources. Thanks for checking us, Ecorazzi, VegNews and reaching out to these athletes to get the real, up to date scoop. I appreciate all your comments on our blog post as well. Cheers vegan friend across the pond! 🙂 Sharon
@Charlene, how great of you be so open, honest and to share here. Do they even make non-leather vegan ice skates? I don’t think so! That’s awesome that you’ve been living a compassionate healthy lifestyle for so long. In doing so you inspire others to do the same. The occasional coffee/tea can’t take that away. 🙂
Thank you for the kind words, Sharon! They’re much appreciated.