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Historic athletes from the state of Wisconsin


Lambeau Field | Photo by @meganbriggsphotography

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When it comes to Wisconsin sports, we’re quick to conjure up images of the beloved Milwaukee Bucks or the UW-Madison Badgers. From “Jump Around” to chanting Bucks in six and curling on the frozen Milwaukee River in the 1840s to turning Wisconsin taverns into bowling alleys for the next hundred years, Badgers have a long-standing tradition of sports.

After a Bucks championship win + a Badgers NCAA championship title this year, let’s take a look at some of the most famous Wisconsin-born athletes.

Curly Lambeau (1898-1965)

Green Bay, WI

Infamous founder of the Packers organization who coached the team through its first six NFL titles. Lambeau is also credited with developing the idea of daily practices + using a forward pass as an offensive tool.

Eric Heiden (1958-present)

Madison, WI

Feverishly known as “the man of gold,” Heiden accomplished what no other Olympic athlete could — winning gold medals in all five single speed skating events during the 1980 games. His success across both sprint + long-distance events has distinguished Heiden’s legacy as a Badger and olympian.

Gwen Jorgensen (1986-present)

Waukesha, WI

A UW-Madison graduate who participated in collegiate swimming, track and field + cross country. In 2010, Jorgensen won Team USA’s triathlon rookie of the year. Only six years later, she would go on to be the first American to win Olympic triathlon gold in Rio with a time under two hours.

Dan Jansen (1965-present)

West Allis, WI

A three-time world champion + eight-time world record holder in speed skating. Jansen’s story is known worldwide for his falls during the 1988 Olympics, only to win and claim the WR during his 1994 return.

Carie Graves (1953-2021)

Madison, WI

A three-time Olympian + two-time medalist in rowing, Graves began her career at UW-Madison as a walk-on sophomore to the rowing team in 1973. Over the coming decades, she would compete and coach her way to multiple championships, ultimately earning USA Rowing’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1981 and 1984.

Al Simmons (1902-1956)

Milwaukee, WI

Nicknamed “Bucketfoot Al” for his unconventional batting stance, the Milwaukee native holds the single-season record for hits by a right-handed batter with 253 in 1925. Simmons was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1953 for his contributions across seven different ball clubs.

Arike Ogunbowale (1997-present)

Milwaukee, WI

Ogunbowale has had a quick rise to stardom after nailing game-winning shots in both national semifinal + final basketball games — not to mention her stint on Dancing with the Stars. The first-team All-American athlete was drafted fifth overall in the 2019 WNBA draft to command the Dallas Wings.

Molly Seidel (1994-present)

Brookfield, WI

The long-distance runner won several Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association titles during high school before attending Notre Dame for college. During the 2020 Summer Olympics Seidel earned the bronze medal in only her third career marathon.

Did we miss a Wisconsin-born athlete? Let us know who your favorite Wisconsin sports icon is.