There are some Olympians who transcend their sport, who become larger-than-life during the two-plus weeks that the world’s attention shifts to sports that are so often an afterthought.
Part of the reason? Some catchy nicknames.
Yes, the Olympics have always produced athletes whose monikers came to define them, going all the way back to the early 1900s. There was the “The Flying Scotsman” Eric Liddell, the central figure in the film “Chariots of Fire” who competed in the 1924 Paris Games, and the “Buckeye Bullet” Jesse Owens, who struck a blow against Adolf Hitler’s vision of a master race at the 1936 Munich Games.
In the 1970s, gymnast Olga Korbut became known as “The Sparrow of Minsk,” and in the early 2000s, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe was given the obvious nickname of “Thorpedo.”
So, what are some of the nicknames making a mark on the Rio Olympics?
Start with gymnastics, where the triumphant U.S. women’s team of Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman, "The Flying Squirrel" Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian dubbed themselves the “Final Five.”
— Zac Efron (@ZacEfron) August 17, 2016
Nicknames always seem to pop up in the pool, too. Michael Phelps has been called “The Baltimore Bullet” and the “Flying Fish,” though neither of those has the same ring as “Most Decorated Olympian Ever.” But teammate Connor Jaeger says he’s been called “Crazy Eyes” for his bugged-out look in goggles, while Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu lived up to her nickname of “Iron Lady” by winning three gold medals and a silver at the Rio Games.
— Iron Lady (@HosszuKatinka) August 18, 2016
U.S. rugby player Alev Kelter is called “Chippy” thanks to an unfortunate incident with her front tooth. On the track, American sprinter English Gardner said she hopes her alter-ego “Baby Beast” makes an appearance at the Olympic Stadium during the Rio Games. The cycling world has “The Pocket Rocket” Azizulhasni Awang of Malaysia, who won his nation’s first medal on the track in the keirin. There is also Maris “The Machine” Strombergs of Latvia, who was going for his third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the BMX competition this week.
Of course, some athletes don’t need a catchy nickname _ their given name is just fine.
Usain Bolt, anyone?