(FORTUNE Magazine) – THERE'S NOTHING more quickly forgotten than a sports hero,'' said Billy Kidd, who in 1964 became the first American male Alpine skier to win an Olympic medal. Not so for the top executives on these pages, all Olympians who carried the drive to excel into the corporate world. If gold medals were awarded for business success, these champions would own some. Olympians have brains as well as brawn. Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society found that 75% of U.S. Olympic athletes surveyed complete college, vs. 23% of all Americans recently, and 42% attend graduate school. World-class athletes reach the top by managing their talent rigorously and mastering specific techniques, an approach that pays off in business too. Running the Olympic gantlet doesn't assure success. Marathoner Bill Rodgers built up a prosperous clothing company but knew little about managing. He recently liquidated the firm and sold his home to the Bank of Boston to pay his debts. And relatively few female Olympians have scored as senior managers, though more should as women in general advance into upper corporate echelons. Meantime, they tend to make their marks in professions. Tenley Albright, the top figure skater of 1956, is a surgeon in Boston. The 1984 gymnastics medalist Kathy Johnson delivers motivational speeches to companies such as IBM and 3M. JIM FUCHS took up the shot put to stay in shape and soon reinvented the sport. He had injured his left knee playing high school football in Chicago, and when an operation laid him up during his freshman year at Yale, he started hefting the 16-pound ball. Fuchs pondered a basic formula of physics -- mass X velocity 2 = distance -- and created a new technique. The old way was to hop to the front of the circle, stop, then thrust. Fuchs turned his body in one continuous motion, producing greater momentum. Two years after his first throw, he set a world record. He won his first bronze medal in London in 1948, competing with strep throat and a 104 degrees F. temperature. In the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where he shared a dorm room with hurdler Charlie Moore (see following page), he captured another bronze despite a badly injured hand. Practicing for the 1952 Olympics wasn't easy either. Living in Manhattan and newly hired into NBC's executive training program, Fuchs worked out in Central Park until complaints about the large holes his shot was making in the grass forced him to switch to a field beneath the 59th Street bridge. One evening two policemen visited, having received a call about a man who was, in his skimpy exercise garb, ''indecently exposed.'' The cops quickly recognized Fuchs's name and helped him retrieve his shot as he practiced. Fuchs, 60, spent 20 years as a communications industry executive (his wife, Anne, is publisher of Woman's Day) before moving into the outplacement business. He joined a friend's company in 1970 even though the business -- helping laid-off managers find new jobs -- ''sounded like the most depressing thing I had ever heard of in my life,'' he says. He started Fuchs Cuthrell in 1973 to bring a heterodox approach to the business. Several counselors, instead of just one, work with each job seeker, who then can gravitate toward the one he likes best. Spouses and children may even participate in what Fuchs calls ''a family approach.'' In business as in sports, says Fuchs, ''I try not to think about what everybody else is doing.'' At Fuchs Cuthrell that philosophy has brought winning results. The New York- based company today has seven offices in the U.S. and France, and is one of the largest U.S. outplacement agencies. INCH FOR INCH, sports mavens say, 6-foot 5-inch Oscar Robertson is the best basketball player who ever lived. He led the American team to a gold medal in Rome in 1960, and in the NBA the ''Big O'' netted 26,710 points, setting a record for a guard. A complete player, he also set records for rebounds, assists, and free throws made. He viewed basketball as a business, and he played it with precision and consistency, never with flamboyance or wasted motion. ''I honestly never thought about losing,'' says Robertson, now 49. Pete Newell, his Olympic coach, says Robertson understood early the value of positive thinking. Most of his Olympic teammates complained when they discovered that they would have to play with a European-style basketball -- the one Robertson is holding in the picture. ''Oscar didn't say a word,'' says Newell. ''He took the ball, just started shooting it, and figured out that it was most effective if you bank-shot it.'' Says Jerry Ketover, the 6- foot 7-inch former college player who is Robertson's business partner: ''With Oscar, there's no way that things aren't going to get done.''

Robertson bounced into business by dabbling in real estate development during his pro days in Cincinnati and Milwaukee. ''I wanted to make money,'' says the champion, who grew up in an Indianapolis ghetto. ''We never had anything when I was young.'' He started Orchem in 1981. The Cincinnati firm produces specialty chemicals that companies such as Kraft, PepsiCo, and Anheuser-Busch use to clean their equipment. Last year Orchem racked up an estimated $20 million in revenues. Robertson, who had a reputation in basketball for not passing to lazy players, sets high standards for the Orchem team too. He recruits employees on a trial basis before hiring them permanently. Orchem lost money its first four years but now is profitable, says Robertson. ''Everybody is looking for us to make a mistake, to drop the ball because I'm Oscar Robertson and it's a minority-owned company,'' he says. ''We've had some problems, but the ball has bounced right back. We're to the point now where we turn down business that we don't want.'' INSPIRED BY his father, a high hurdler on the 1924 Olympic team, Charlie Moore began running in high school. As an engineering student at Cornell, he devised a new style of hurdling -- using 13 steps between each barrier instead of the traditional 15 -- that made him a world champion. The lanky Moore never lost in the 400-meter hurdles, and at Helsinki he copped a gold, plus a silver in the four-man, 1,600-meter relay. Today's top-ranked hurdler, Edwin Moses, uses the 13-step technique as well. Moore hung up his running shoes in 1952 and has never even jogged since. His father urged him to pour into business the same passion he had put into sports. ''I wanted to work for Du Pont or Bethlehem Steel after college, but my father prevailed upon me to help him with the family company,'' he says. Lenape Forge, a specialty steel producer, sorely needed capital. After Moore helped shore up its finances, he sold it to Gulf & Western in 1965 and ran it for the conglomerate until 1973. Moore, 59, has since become a specialist at turning around troubled companies. They include Clevepak, a maker of building products and packaging materials, and now Ransburg, a manufacturer of factory automation gear that lost $15.8 million on revenues of $194.9 million last year. Moore joined the company in August, moving to Indianapolis from Greenwich, Connecticut. His relaxed and quiet demeanor belies a furious drive to win. Working his way to No. 1 in the hurdles taught him how to ''pick an objective and pursue it relentlessly,'' he says. ''It takes a fierce determination to turn around businesses. There are a lot of easier ways to live your life. But I've always relished the big hurdle.'' He has nine children ages 10 to 37, from two marriages, and works at least 12 hours a day plus some nights and weekends. Says Robert Lear, former chairman of brewer F&M Schaefer, who has sat with Moore on corporate boards: ''He would drive me wild, call me at 11:30 at night, 6:30 in the morning. He never stops working.'' FRANK MCKINNEY was the ultimate do-it-all, win-it-all kid. His first swim was at age 7 at Camp Arcadia in New York's Catskill Mountains, where counselors made him paddle 25 yards. ''It came naturally,'' he says. He was a top student and president of his high school class for three years until he traveled to Melbourne as an Olympian. There he picked up the bronze in the 100-meter backstroke. Four years later, while attending Indiana University, he won a gold and a silver medal in Rome. ''It sounds trite, but organization is the key to success in sports and business,'' he says. As a swimmer practicing two to six hours a day, McKinney says he never felt frazzled because he learned early on how to manage his time. Today, as president of Banc One, a highly profitable ''superregional'' bank holding company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio (1987 assets: $18.7 billion), he spends the morning on his own priorities and the afternoon on matters that others bring to him. McKinney became president of Banc One last year after it bought Indianapolis-based American Fletcher Corp., a banking company that his father headed from 1959 to 1968. Frank Jr. took charge in 1972. Says S. Edgar Lauther, 75, who was American Fletcher's interim chairman: ''Frank is so self- disciplined. Most people carrying that kind of responsibility sometimes need to bite a pencil in half. Frank never did.'' McKinney, 49, has urged his six children to engage in after-school sports until 5 P.M., then take an hour break, followed by dinner and homework. Says he: ''You can plug into your time management anything you want. You can plan to do nothing.'' His exercise routine is rigid too. He swims three days a week. On alternate days he runs in his Indianapolis neighborhood, adhering to a 25-minute, two-mile routine that includes walking, jogging, and sprinting. McKinney's most vivid memory of the Olympics was helping a Hungarian swimmer defect. The athletes in Melbourne slept on platform beds that were nailed to the floor. McKinney removed his box spring and hid the swimmer underneath. While the KGB searched, McKinney lay in bed. The athlete escaped safely. BECOMING an Olympic team captain and corporate boss was beyond Gib Ford's wildest dreams. Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, he was a mediocre student who received no encouragement from his mother, was embarrassed by his alcoholic father, and turned to athletics to escape his troubles. He preferred football and baseball, but a junior high coach saw his potential for basketball and helped him develop it. While playing for the Air Force after graduation from the University of Texas, the 6-foot 4-inch Ford was chosen to play guard in the 1956 Olympics. The team took the gold. ''That showed me that you can do more and prove yourself better than you ever thought,'' he says. Pro basketball paid little in those days, so Ford rejected a $3,500 annual salary offer from the Minneapolis Lakers and went to work for Phillips Petroleum. The Phillips '66ers was the top U.S. amateur team; executives played some 60 games a year against such other corporate teams as the Peoria Caterpillars and the Akron Goodyears. Ford was the quintessential team player. ''I wasn't a high scorer,'' he says. ''I usually played defense against the leading scorer. It was an unglamorous, unrecognized role, but I was willing to work hard to make the team win.'' That quality has served him well in business. Grady Lewis, a former pro player and Phillips executive who became head of sales at Converse, recruited Ford in 1960 to join the Massachusetts-based shoe company as a salesman. Now retired in Arizona, Lewis says, ''Gib is a great organizer and delegator. He knows how to create teams around him to get the job done.'' Whenever Lewis recruited basketball players, he noted how they performed in games when the score was even. ''I looked for the ones who said 'Give me the ball' and didn't buckle. Gib was one of them,'' he says. Ford, 56, became president of Converse in 1986. Since its parent company, Interco, is the prey of corporate raiders, he is coaching managers to ''keep the eye on the ball.'' Converse, with 1987 sales of $318 million, has lost market share to Reebok and Nike. Ford wants to pull Converse out of its weak areas and focus on categories such as basketball and children's sneakers, where it is winning. MARTY LIQUORI is one of only three high schoolers to break the four-minute mile, and at age 18 he was among the youngest Olympic runners ever. He later ranked No. 1 in the world in the mile and 5,000 meters. But he injured himself shortly before both the 1972 and 1976 Games, and he never again competed as an Olympian. Liquori took athletic wins and losses in stride. His coach at Villanova, the late Jumbo Elliott, was a millionaire businessman who told him that running was a temporary career. In 1972 Liquori and Jimmy Carnes, a former University of Florida track coach, opened the first Athletic Attic store in Gainesville, Florida. ''I saw people jogging, and there was no place to buy good running shoes,'' says Liquori, 39. He'd also noticed that people in Europe wore running shoes as casual wear. He predicted the trend would catch on at home.

Today Liquori oversees 142 stores in the U.S., New Zealand, and Japan, 100 of them franchises. Sales total about $40 million, making Athletic Attic the third-largest U.S. sports shoe chain. ''What we did here is more difficult than setting a world record,'' he says. ''Running is scientific. I could knock three seconds off my time by doing something different with my body. In business there are so many more variables that you can't control.'' A few years ago many of his managers and franchise owners were athletes, but most are gone now. ''Teaching businessmen to think like athletes is a lot easier than getting athletes to think like businessmen,'' he says. ''Many former athletes come with prima donna attitudes.'' Running bred a need for independence and quick rewards, which shows in the way Liquori manages. ''I'm a typical entrepreneur,'' he says. ''I like ideas and concepts, and once smooth sailing is achieved, I grow bored.'' He leaves details to partner Gerald Schackow, a former lawyer and University of Hawaii quarterback whom he calls ''a better team player than I am.''