How these Olympians ended up at Google

Figure Skater Tim Goebel, who won bronze in Salt Lake City, is among Google's 'dozens' of Olympians
by Alyssa Newcomb /  / Updated 

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SAN FRANCISCO—The Silicon Valley set is a notoriously eclectic bunch, so it may come as no surprise that among the ranks of techies are a number of former Olympians. But for some of these elite athletes, scoring a job at Google required almost as much training as winning a much-coveted medal.

Google's parent company, Alphabet, has more than 80,000 employees. Among them are dozens of Olympians, according to an unofficial count from the company.

Plushenko Yagudin Goebel
From left, silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, gold medalist Alexei Yagudin also of Russia, and bronze medalist Timothy Goebel of the United States pose on the podium at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City on Feb. 14, 2002.Doug Mills / AP file

Tim Goebel, the men's Olympic figure skating bronze medalist in Salt Lake City in 2002, and one of the most recent American men to medal in the individual event at the Olympics, now works at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.

"Pretty much everyone dreams of working at Google. My expectations were low but I applied," he told NBC News.

Wait, what?

Yes, it turns out even some of the Olympians NBC News spoke with were eager to work at Google but had to work just as hard as anyone else to get their foot in the door.

Image: U.S. rowers Adrienne Martelli, Megan Kalmoe, Kara Kohler, and Natalie Dell display the bronze medals they won
U.S. rowers Adrienne Martelli, Megan Kalmoe, Kara Kohler, and Natalie Dell display the bronze medals they won in the women's rowing quadruple sculls in Eton Dorney, near Windsor, England, at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Aug. 1, 2012.Armando Franca / AP file

Natalie O'Brien, a bronze medalist in the 4x4 rowing in London, told NBC News that after her Olympic moment, she moved across the country with her husband.

"I did not want to go back to my old office and resume the life I had before the Olympics. I knew I would really have to shake things up, because I heard the [post-Olympics] transition could be difficult," she said.

A former college roommate worked at Google and encouraged O'Brien to apply for a few jobs, but she didn't land any offers. Instead, she ended up spending nearly four years getting some more experience before she landed her post-Olympic dream job at Google as an account executive in San Francisco.

Image: Natalie O'Brien, formerly Natalie Dell, at Google.
Natalie O'Brien, formerly Natalie Dell, at Google.Courtesy Natalie O'Brien

It was kind of like she was training for Google, she told NBC News.

"We [athletes] are an impatient bunch. We’re competitive. We want to achieve and we want results right now, but training at the elite level also gives you an appreciation for the process," she said. "I have to say that is the most applicable trait that training at the elite level taught me."

Mira Leung, a figure skater who competed in Turin in 2006 for Team Canada and at 16 was the youngest athlete on the team, said she was laser-focused on school and training, so she never gave much thought to what her next career would be.

Image: Mira Leung was a Software Engineering Intern working on the Analytics Team in the Irvine Office of Google, June 12, 2014.
Mira Leung was a Software Engineering Intern working on the Analytics Team in the Irvine Office of Google, June 12, 2014.Google

"I had always been drawn to computers since I was young, so I decided to major in computer science in university," she said.

Now a software engineer on Google's Daydream team, which focuses on virtual and augmented reality, Leung said her day to day consists of programming and technical design for Google's AR and VR initiatives.

"I feel lucky that I get to work with my awesome colleagues and be part of such an inspiring team. It's amazing to see what we're able to build together," she said.

Olympic Games
Susanna Rahkoma and Petri Kokko of Finland do their routine during the ice skating exhibition at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway on Feb. 26, 1994.Pascal Rondeau / Getty Images file

Petri Kokko, a Finnish ice dancer, competed in the 1992 games in Albertville, France, and the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway, joined Google 12 years ago and is now the agency sales director in Germany, working on Google's advertising products.

"Google was a very different company [when I joined]," he said. "But as I had always been interested in computer science and marketing, I decided to have a chat with Google and here I am still after all these years."

The four Olympians-turned-Googlers that NBC News spoke with said their colleagues are aware of their Olympic pasts.

But Goebel joked, "It's not like I walk around saying, 'Hi, I'm Tim, I'm an Olympian!'"

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