For Michael Voudouris, 47, a lifelong New Yorker, the city itself was an Olympic training ground. He grew up riding a sled in Forest Park in Queens and worked for years as an ambulance driver, which gave him the agility to become a world-class sled driver. And the inspiration he gained from working at ground zero helped propel him to compete in the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.The city also inspired Nikos Spanakos, 70, who toughened his fists on the rough streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, and competed as a boxer in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he roomed with Muhammad Ali, when he was still known as Cassius Clay.
Then there is David Peng, a Taiwanese immigrant and an owner of a construction company in Queens whose Olympic aspirations were ended by global politics when Canada bowed to pressure from China and kept Taiwan out of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
His is a remarkable story, but there are scores of Olympians living and working in and around New York City.
There are gold medalists whose world records remain unbroken: like Kevin Young, who lives in Harlem and remains a celebrity for his unmatched achievement in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Then there are those whose Olympic performance was only a flicker, and they are now working stiffs, like Mr. Voudouris, who can be seen with his safety vest, flashlight and hard hat working as a safety consultant in the city’s subway system.
Not only do homegrown Olympians walk among us, but New York is also rich with veterans of foreign Olympic teams drawn to the city as a cultural and career destination. One thing they all seem to share, at least, is a boastful line, the legacy of their Olympic moment.
“I’m an Olympic superhero,” Mr. Young says. “I didn’t just break Edwin Moses’s record for the 400-meter hurdles — I shattered it.”
Mr. Voudouris says, “After working at ground zero, no one was going to stop me from making the Olympics.”
The number of Olympians in New York is hard to pinpoint. The United States Olympic Committee says it keeps contact information for 4,600 American team members, excluding the team in Beijing now. Of those, there are 246 members with addresses in New York State.
Otis Davis, the president of the Tri-States Olympic Alumni Association, says the metropolitan area has several hundred Olympic athletes from various years and countries. Mr. Davis, a runner who says, “I was the first person to wear Nike sneakers in the Olympics,” won two gold medals at the 1960 Games.
“There are so many Olympians in the New York area, but there are no former Olympians,” he said. “That’s because there is no such thing as a former Olympian. Once you’re an Olympian, you’re an Olympian for life.”
Ray Lumpp played on the United States basketball team in the 1948 Olympics in London. Now 85, he says, “I’m the oldest living Olympic basketball player in America.” He was a longtime athletic director of the New York Athletic Club, and says he has interacted with hundreds of Olympians in New York.
There are better known athletes and personalities, like Dick Button, perhaps the most widely known figure-skating television commentator. Mr. Button, now 79, is a New Jersey native and has homes in Manhattan and Westchester. He won Olympic gold medals in 1948 and 1952 and had a successful career in television production. In 1978, he was injured in an attack by a gang of youths in Central Park.
Also among the Olympians is Diane Dixon, a track star who won a silver medal in the 400-meter relay in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She is now active in city youth programs.
Alvin Henry, 31, of Brooklyn, was a Trinidadian Olympic track star in the 2000 Games in Sydney who spiraled into drug use. He pleaded guilty this summer to rape charges for attacks in Brooklyn and Queens, and is now imprisoned on Rikers Island.
Mr. Young, the hurdler, can be seen running every night in Central Park, now part of the regular pack of joggers.
“New York City has an Olympic-level competitiveness,” he said. “You earn a living and get in the mix or you get left by the wayside. It’s a place where you can see an Academy Award winner on the subway, and they’re just another person. It’s a big cornucopia of people living in close proximity to each other, and every day, the guy with the $6 million apartment and the guy living in the projects, their lives will cross.”
Mr. Voudouris is a lifelong native of Glendale, Queens, and the son of a Greek immigrant. That allowed him to compete for Greece in the sledding sport known as skeleton, which is similar to the luge. A former emergency medical technician, he rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks and worked at ground zero for nearly six days.
He said he developed chronic lung problems, but his resolve to make the Olympics only increased, and he intensified his workouts at the Y.M.C.A. on Queens Boulevard in Long Island City.
Mr. Voudouris said he fractured his jaw and his spine competing in Salt Lake City, but still managed to wind up in 23rd place in the event. Now, he is a safety engineer working on large water and rail tunnel projects under Manhattan.
“I guess I don’t look like an Olympian on the job site or the subway with my hard hat and vest and flashlight,” he said. “You have a similar task in skeleton as working in the tunnels. In both things, you try to eliminate as many risks as possible. You don’t want an accident.”
Mr. Spanakos, the boxer, is still at his fighting weight of 125 pounds. He weighs himself every morning in his apartment in Brooklyn Heights on the scale next to his trophies, medals and photographs. Mr. Spanakos and his identical twin, Pete, were the youngest of nine children in one of the only Greek families in the mostly German and Irish neighborhood of Red Hook, he said.
“We had to use our fists to protect ourselves, and we began to learn under a city program in Red Hook Park,” said Mr. Spanakos, a retired business and math professor.
The Spanakos brothers say they have both won the New York City Golden Gloves boxing tournament and hold 17 Golden Gloves titles between them.
Nikos Spanakos has a bad back and still has operations to fix his nose, oft-broken in his boxing days. He works out daily at a gym near his apartment, and laughed when asked about rooming with Muhammad Ali.
“Even as a teenager, he was a big talker, and a lot of what he said, he wrote out on cards first,” Mr. Spanakos recalled. “He told me as a teenager in 1959 that he would win the gold and go on to be heavyweight champ of the world.”
By COREY KILGANNON www.nytimes.com