Thursday October 23rd, 2014

For nearly 60 years, Sports Illustrated has showcased amateur athletes and competitors who stand out in the crowd. Many -- Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods, Billie Jean King, to name a few -- have gone on to bigger and better achievements in professional sports.

Here, though, are four famous Faces in the Crowd you may be slightly more surprised to see profiled.

 


Bobby Fischer, 13, chess

What we said on April 30, 1956: A 13-year-old Brooklyn boy, Bobby, played an exhibition against 21 foes and lost only one match. He tied for first in the Manhattan Chess Club's "A" reserve tournament.

Where he went: Fischer became the youngest U.S. champion at 15 and the youngest international grandmaster at 15. In 1972 he won the world championship. He became notorious for erratic behavior and died in Iceland in 2008.

 

Vera Wang, 18, figure skating

What we said on Jan. 8, 1968: Wang, a freshman drama major at Sarah Lawrence College, hitched a last-minute ride (after her car broke down) to the North Atlantic Figure Skating Championships at the South Mountain Arena in West Orange, N.J., and took the senior ladies' title with a near-perfect performance.

Where she went: Wang missed qualifying for the nationals by two spots, thus ending her dream of reaching the 1968 Olympics. She spent the next three years studying in Paris and became a world-renowned fashion designer. In a 2006 interview with SI, Wang said she still skated occasionally with her two daughters and still drew on the discipline instilled by 16-hour practice days. "My old coach Peter Dunfield recently said to me, 'Vera, don't you miss the wind in your face?" Wang said at the time. "And I said, 'I do. I miss it every day.'"

 

Kris Kristofferson, 17, Rugby, Football, Boxing

What we said on March 31, 1958: Kristofferson, a senior at Pomona College who starred as a distance runner in high school, plays standoff on the rugby team and starts at left end on the football team. He is also a Golden Gloves boxer, sports editor of the college paper, outstanding cadet in his ROTC battalion and a Rhodes scholar-elect. At Oxford he will study English literature to prepare for a writing career.

Where he went: Kristofferson, now 78, became the only three-sport college athlete and Rhodes scholar to work as a janitor in a Nashville studio. "It was like I had the freedom of nothin' left to lose," he told SI in 2006, echoing the lyrics of his most famous song, Me and Bobby McGee. A few years after hanging up his mop, Kristofferson heard his tunes recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Ray Price, even as he made his own albums. Director Sam Peckinpah made him a movie star in 1973, casting him as William H. Bonney in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

After 29 albums and more than 50 films, Kristofferson said in 2006 of his janitorial days, "I never felt like I was failing—although I was—because I loved songwriting and music as much as I loved sports." The 78-year-old actor-singer will play President Andrew Jackson on History Channel's Texas Rising miniseries in 2015.

 

Jesse Jackson Jr., 18, football

What we said on Feb. 13, 1984: Jesse, a senior running back at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., rushed for 889 yards and scored 15 touchdowns this season for the 6--3 Bulldogs, despite losing three games because of injury and illness. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

Where he went: Warming up before a St. Albans football game during his senior season, in 1984, Jackson noticed men in trench coats along the sidelines. Then Jesse Jackson Sr. arrived. "That's when I realized what my father was really doing," Jackson Jr. recalled in a 2006 interview with SI.

Jackson Jr., now 49, went on to represent Illinois's 2nd congressional district from 1995 until he resigned in 2012, citing mental and physical health issues. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison in August 2013 for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds.

 

Adapted from a December 2006 SI special issue celebrating 50 years of "Faces in the Crowd."

 

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