From 'Tarzan''s Johnny Weissmuller to 'Scrooged''s Mary Lou Retton, a look at actors who have also won Olympic medals

By Wook Kim
Updated September 15, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Second only to the Democratic national convention as Hollywood’s favorite quadrennial summer event is the Olympics: The ancient games are rife with both strong drama and taut abs. Likewise, the lure of stardom can make any highly trained athlete gladly trade Olympic gold for screen silver. But as these movies (featuring bona fide summer Olympians) sadly illustrate, making movie magic is a severe test of their medal.

JOHNNY WEISSMULLER in Tarzan the Ape Man
Weissmuller’s turn as the lord of the jungle is one of very few examples in which an Olympian is able to make a living as an actor. The handsome, medal-winning swimmer (’24 and ’28) wisely took on a role that would rarely call upon him to stretch his, uh, native talents.

MITCH GAYLORD in American Anthem
One of several U.S. males who broke hearts at the ’84 L.A. Games, Gaylord radiated a medium-heat smolder that shouted, ”I own a Soloflex.” Gaylord marked his passage into movies with this hard-bod epic, notable only for tackling the previously unexplored genre of bad-boy gymnasts.

Every four summers the world falls in love with a girl gymnast, and in 1984, that girl was Mary Lou Retton. She made her screen debut opposite Bill Murray, playing a pixieish TV-movie Tiny Tim. Unfortunately, her acting suggested an utter unfamiliarity with the work of Dickens.

Due to the nature of the role and the sheer magnitude of his persona, we automatically disqualified Muhammad Ali’s playing himself in 1977’s The Greatest. And we must also discount the work of runner Carl Lewis in 1989’s Speed Zone!, owing to the fact that we were unable to find a single copy. Alas, the same cannot be said of Bruce Jenner, who parlayed his success at the 1976 Summer Games into a part in the 1980 Village People vehicle, Can’t Stop the Music. But Jenner’s performance makes it clear that acting wasn’t an event in the modern decathlon.