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From Ice to Infield Olympian Eddy Alvarez Trades Skates for Cleats in Tokyo

by Caitlin Moyer

How many athletes have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics?

It makes a nice trivia question, doesn’t it?

The answer is 136… for now. 

Of those 136, five of those athletes were speed skaters representing Team USA and each of them complemented their winter skating with the summer sport of cycling: Art Longsjo (1956, speed skating and cycling); Arnold Uhrlass (1960, speed skating; 1964, cycling); Connie Carpenter-Phinney (1972, speed skating; 1984, cycling); Connie Paraskevin (1984, speed skating; 1988, 1992, 1996, cycling); and Chris Witty (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, speed skating; cycling 2000).

When it comes to those who have medaled in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, the number becomes much smaller. There have only been five athletes worldwide to accomplish this amazing feat.

Two of the five athletes medaled with the somewhat popular combination of speed skating and cycling (Christa Luding-Rothenburger of Germany and Clara Hughes from Canada). And just two of athletes were from the United States: Eddie Eagan, who won Gold Medals in both Light Heavyweight Boxing in the 1920 Summer Olympics and in the 4-Man Bobsleigh at the 1932 Winter Olympics; and Lauryn Williams, who won Gold Medals for athletics events at both the 2004 and 2012 Summer Olympics and a Silver Medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics for the 2-Man Bobsleigh event. (For curious minds, the fifth athlete was Jacob Tullin Thams from Norway who won a Gold Medal in ski jumping in the 1924 Games and a Silver Medal in 8-meter Yachting in the 1936 Games.)

When Olympic speed skater Eddy Alvarez trades the ice for a diamond in Tokyo this week with Team USA Baseball, the 31-year-old Cuban-American will bring the total number up to 137… and seeks to become the sixth to win medals in both--with arguably the most unique combination of sports.

Alvarez, who won a Silver Medal with US Speedskating (USS) in the Men’s 5000m Relay at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, would be the first dual-sport athlete to compete in the unconventional combination of speed skating and baseball. 

When asked what these two sports had in common for him, Alvarez joked, “I would say the only link is the fact that we go left. There’s really nothing similar about them.”

“I would say it’s probably one of the unique combinations of a dual athlete, but there’s also the spirit of competition. That will never die in any sport. I owe a lot to speed skating because of the competitor it’s formed me into and vice versa,” he added.

Alvarez says he fell in love with both sports when he was about five years old, but being from Miami, he started skating on pavement. 

“It was rollerblading in the ‘90s. The big thing was to put on your blades and go to South Beach and skate around. That’s how it all started for me. I was just cruising around the streets of South Beach and got scouted. Two ladies stopped my parents and said, ‘This kid needs to try the sport of inline speed skating,’ so I did and I remember falling in love with it and the thrill of racing. So, the Olympic dream was presented to me at a very young age, and I saw how it could potentially be possible because I watched Jennifer Rodriguez’s journey,” he said, referencing another Cuban-American Olympian who made the transition from inline to ice. 

“I just knew I had to jump over to the ice if I wanted to become an Olympian.”

So, starting around age 8 or 9, Alvarez began to work toward that dream. 

“South Florida is not known for having much ice, so at a young age, I was traveling a lot just to find the world of speed skating because down in Miami you don’t find that at all.  My parents really sacrificed an unbelievable amount to try to give me the best chances to make my dream come true. Without them, none of this would’ve been possible. They would travel with me all the time to train and get me to competitions. I went to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Lake Placid and all over…you name it, I’ve been there.” 

Although Alvarez put a lot of energy and focus on speed skating, he also fostered his love of baseball, continuing to play throughout high school and following in his brother Nick’s footsteps by committing to play baseball at St. Thomas University (Fla.). The infielder was excited to play for the coach there and was offered a full-ride scholarship. Without hesitation, he signed early, when he was a junior.  

However, when it came time to head to college, Alvarez realized he had a shot at achieving his goal of making the Olympics. He was honest with the coach, who, Alvarez remembers, was not only understanding, but encouraging, telling him to chase his dreams. 

“That was a tough decision, to turn down that opportunity,” Alvarez said. “But I always had the idea of going back to baseball. I didn’t know what route I was going to take to get there, but I knew eventually I was going to get back to it.”

Unfortunately, Alvarez missed out on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, but, while living in Salt Lake City and training full time with the US National team, he decided to turn back to baseball. “I contacted the head coach at the Salt Lake Community College. He kind of laughed over the phone but said I could come by and try out. I made the team. I played that year. It was unbelievable,” he recounted.

However, Alvarez had been having knee issues, so he had surgery in 2012 to fix them and shifted the focus back to speed skating--on rehabbing and making the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. 

In a strange twist of fate, or perhaps foreshadowing, while he was rehabbing in Miami, Alvarez met Lauryn Williams, one of the five athletes to medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, while she was rehabbing at the same facility.

“I knew she was a track runner; I just had no idea how elite of an athlete she was. I just remember how we talked about how much she loves baking,” he said.

Alvarez and Williams completed their rehab, continued to train hard in their respective sports, and were later reunited when Alvarez achieved his boyhood dream of making the Olympics.

“We talked about her baking me cookies and the next thing you know, I’m meeting up with her at the team processing in Munich before we left for Sochi and it was just a complete whirlwind,” Alvarez recalled. 

It was there in Sochi where Williams, who won a Silver Medal in the Women’s 4x100m Relay at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games and a Gold Medal in the same event at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, joined the elite group of athletes to have appeared on a podium at both the Summer and Winter Games when she won a Silver Medal in the Women’s Two-Woman Bobsleigh.

And it was there that Alvarez also earned his own Silver Medal. 

“I was one of the athletes to make all the events. I didn’t really quite put it together individually, but we had a great race in the relay. I had strong teammates that I could lean on, and they could lean on me. I mean, we had a crazy amount of trust with each other,” Alvarez said, referencing JR Celski, Christopher Creveling, Kyle Carr and Jordan Malone. 

“We were ranked number one in the world going into the Olympics. It was one of those races that was kind of ours to lose. Given the sport of short track is probably one of the most unpredictable in the history of sports, it just so happened that it was Russia’s day that day,” he said. Still, his team came away with a Silver Medal and Alvarez’s dream as a young boy had come to fruition. 

When asked to recount a favorite moment from Sochi, he’s quick to say, “Opening Ceremonies. Without a doubt.”

“We walked from the center of the stadium out onto the walking track and, as soon as we walked out of the smoke and the smog, you could hear the roars. I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it. There were 60-70,000 people, and they were all there as part of this movement…. The Olympic spirit was so high and it was kind of a moment of validation for me. It was where I finally told myself that I made it. That was the moment that it really hit me.” 

For most athletes, it’s an incredible achievement to be amongst the elite in one sport, let alone two. Now, Alvarez is preparing for his second Olympic Games, but this time he will be wearing cleats instead of skates.

Alvarez knew he would always get back to baseball, but he didn’t know just how soon he would get there. 

“My first call when I got back from the Olympics was to DG Nelson, the head coach at Salt Lake City Community College,” Alvarez said. “But he said to me, ‘Eddy, I’m not going to lie to you. As much as I want you to come back to this program, you’re 24. Let’s see if we can try to get you signed professionally ASAP.’ So, we basically did a bunch of pro workouts.” 

With professional baseball experience in the family (his brother, Nick, went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000 and played in the team’s minor league system for seven years) and finding a great mentor in former Chicago White Sox pitcher, Carlos Castillo, Alvarez had a good support system in pursuing his next goal.  

“Carlos basically took me in and knew that I wanted to try and sign professionally, so we worked every day. He got my foot in the door with the White Sox and I did a pro workout with them. They really loved me and they offered me my first contract,” Alvarez said.

So, that’s how Alvarez found himself playing the infield in Arizona right after the June Draft, just a little over three months after returning from Sochi.

Alvarez spent the next five seasons with the White Sox organization before being traded to the Miami Marlins in 2019. 

“The White Sox were great, don’t get me wrong, but it was feeling like my time was coming to an end there, and it just happens that that gut feeling was right and it was the Marlins that traded for me. Just to be able to tell my parents that I was going to be playing for our hometown team and have the potential of getting to the big leagues with the hometown team was an accomplishment in itself for them. It’s like man, we grew up Marlins fans and just the opportunity to get to play with my hometown team was breathtaking,” Alvarez remembers. 

After spending time in the Marlins minor league system, Alvarez finally made his MLB debut in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed in the ballpark and even his family and friends were not able to watch him compete in person.

Still, Alvarez says he still felt their presence-- along with the pressures of being watched-- by many on television and online.

Oddly enough, Alvarez believes that experience may help him in Tokyo, where it has been decided that no spectators will be permitted to the Tokyo Games. 

“I have some experience with the no fan thing. Do I like it? Absolutely not. I absolutely hate it. At the same time, I understand the precautions they are taking; it’s still an honor to represent my country and the goal is still to bring home a medal. It’s similar to when MLB announced there would be no fans last year; the goal was still to win ball games. It’s tough. It’s a unique experience and it will be a unique experience for many of these athletes, as well. It is a little heartbreaking because looking back at my last experience at the Olympics, the movement is so powerful and so beautiful, and you really see how the world comes together for these three weeks or so.”

In Sochi, Alvarez’s parents and sister joined him on his journey, and he’s sad that they won’t be able to come to Tokyo. He’s also sad that his wife can’t join him. 

“I’ve never been to Japan before. I never had the opportunity to go compete in Japan. That’s one place that I’ve always wanted to go. She is probably going to hate me for saying this, but growing up, my wife was a huge Pokemon fan. She always wanted to go to Tokyo. Now, our trip together will have to wait. Safety first, and we’ll just have to tread through. Battle. Keep our heads down and do our job,” he said.

Alvarez participated in the Olympic qualifier back in June, so he met many of his teammates there and had played previously with others. He feels like this team already has a strong chemistry.

“The guys over at Team USA put one heck of a squad together given the circumstances, and we’re gonna go out there and play to the best of our ability. It’s incredible when you go through something like making the Olympics together. It just unifies that bond. We’re all on the group chat,” he said. “I also have to give a shout out to the guys that weren’t selected to go to the Olympics because they poured their hearts out at the qualifier; they gave it their all. Veterans like Homer Bailey, Matt Kemp, Jon Jay… It’s a little bittersweet, but we know they’re with us.”

So much about these Olympic Games will be different for Alvarez-- the sport, the country, the lack of in-person spectators-- but one thing remains the same.

“Short track or short stop... . It’s a tremendous opportunity to wear that jersey and represent your country,” he said.