Dancing With the Stars: Athletes is set to kick off, but the inaugural themed season of the ABC celebrity ballroom competition is hardly taking on new turf. Athletes have always been a big part of DWTS—starting with the show’s very first season in 2005, pro boxer Evan Holyfield was the first sports figure ever cast, and he led a long line of pros that includes NFL stars, basketball legends, race car drivers, and Olympians.
Over the past 25 seasons, 10 athletes have won Dancing With the Stars, and this 26th season guarantees another pro competitor will take home the mirrorball trophy. The DWTS: Athletes cast includes NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former MLB player Johnny Damon, NFL star Josh Norman, college basketball star Arike Ogunbowale, and Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Chris Mazdzer, Jennie Finch, Jamie Anderson, Adam Rippon, and fallen figure skater Tonya Harding.
But for now, we’re playing favorites. In honor of the Dancing With the Stars: Athletes premiere, here’s a look back at 5 of the top athletes who’ve already won mirrorball trophies.
Shawn Johnson (Season 8)
In 2009, the Olympic gymnast made DWTS history when she was partnered with popular pro dancer Mark Ballas. Johnson was just 17-years-old at the time, making her the youngest contestant the show had ever seen. Three years later, she landed in second place on DWTS’ all-star edition, no small feat against powerhouse competition that included a list of past DWTS sports star winners and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Melissa Rycroft. In an interview with the blog New Potato, Johnson revealed that her mantra while competing on Dancing With the Stars was “workout, practice, and workout.”
“Endurance is key on DWTS, as the farther along you get, the longer the dances are and the more dances you have to perform in one night,” she explained.
Emmitt Smith (Season 3)
Back in 2006, the former NFL running back was the first pro football player to take home a mirrorball trophy, thanks to his partnership with Cheryl Burke. Fans saw a new side of Smith with his “Twinkletoes” persona. He fell short of a second trophy during the all-stars season, later admitting he knew it was a risk to compete on DWTS, to begin with. Turns out, Smith inspired other NFL stars to give the ballroom a try.
“I was a little hesitant the first time because the show was fairly new, and I didn’t know how it’d be accepted by viewers,” Emmitt told Esquire in 2012. “It was a huge risk. Especially for somebody in my line of work. I never would’ve thought Donald Driver would be interested in the show. I never thought Hines Ward would be a guy who would be doing ballroom. And these are former athletes who have actually taken it to the dance floor and become champions at it.” Smith also revealed that when people come to his house they ask to see his Dancing With the Stars trophy—before his Super Bowl rings.
— Carrie Ann Inaba (@carrieanninaba) April 4, 2017
Kristi Yamaguchi (Season 6)
The Olympic figure skater and Mark Ballas skated their way to the DWTS finish line in 2008, and she remains one of the show’s most beloved contestants of all time. Despite her athletic prowess and natural grace, Kristi never considered herself a ringer on the competition, Yamaguchi later told TooFab she was surprised by the differences between dancing and skating.
“It was pretty different, and I was surprised at that,” Kristi said. “I love body movement and expression to music, and I think that helped. But, I think moving your feet in such a different way than what we do on the ice was the biggest challenge. To learn the different essences and styles of each dance, there are so many rules! It was a lot to take in.”
— People (@people) October 23, 2014
Meryl Davis (Season 18)
It was a match made in DWTS heaven when longtime pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy finally found his perfect partner. Not only did this couple make magic on the dance floor, but Maks finally got his long-overdue mirrorball trophy. According to TV Guide, Meryl Davis holds the record for the highest celebrity average of all time on Dancing With the Stars—a whopping 28.4 out of all the seasons based on the 30 point system.
Apolo Ohno (Season 4)
More than a decade after his DWTS win with pro dancer Julianne Hough, short-track speed skater and eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Anton Ohno is still regarded as one of the greatest Dancing With the Stars competitors of all time. In 2010, he said dancing in front of millions of viewers was more nerve-wracking than skating.
“I know exactly what I’m doing on the ice, and I’m in my element,” Apolo told Women’s Health. “But on the show, I was so nervous and wearing some weird, funky little outfit. It was crazy—I had no idea what I was in for. Dancing was mentally difficult; you had to remember all those steps in two days.” Apolo Ohno was recently named Dancing with the Stars fans’ favorite male athlete winner by Gold Derby. You can see Apolo dancing with Julianne Hough in the video below.
Dancing With the Stars: Athletes premieres Monday, April 30 at 8/7c on ABC.