8 Olympic athletes who appeared on classic TV shows
From Olympic champion to Bond henchman to Mrs. Howell's worst nightmare.
Image: AP Photo
We love watching the Olympics on TV as some of the world's strongest competitors face off in epic games. Appearing in these events doesn't often deter such serious athletes from their initial passion for their sport, but occasionally, TV viewers have witnessed Olympic athletes becoming TV and movie stars—and sometimes even vice versa!
We always get a rush when we see familiar faces turn up on our favorite shows, and so we wanted to share the excitement of seeing some of the world's finest athletes who appeared on hit shows from the '50s through the '80s. Here, you can revisit the roles these swimmers, runners, skaters and more played in sitcoms, dramas, and even starring roles on their own shows. So while all these Olympic hopefuls are out there going for the Gold, spend some time with these Olympic champs who afterwards gave us a reason to go for the remote.
1. Scott Hamilton
1984 Olympic champion figure skater
Scott Hamilton took home a gold medal for the U.S.A. in figure skating at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. He paid that golden fame forward by helping out contestants on Pyramid. Hamilton was a frequent celebrity guest star on the game show in its various iterations — The $10,000 Pyramid, The $25,000 Pyramid and The $100,000 Pyramid. What's he doing today? Well, the champion skater is an avid collector, which is why we featured him on an episode of our very own Collector's Call!
2. Dorothy Hamill
1976 Olympic champion figure skater
After taking home a gold medal in 1976 as an amateur professional skater, Dorothy Hamill instantly turned pro skater, but that wasn't all she did after the competition ended. In 1983, she debuted in her first TV role on Fantasy Island. The same year, she also appeared on Diff'rent Strokes as herself, but impressively, her acting as Kimberly's skating coach was so convincing, many fans went on to fervently believe the young Diff'rent Strokes star was actually almost an Olympic skater, too! (She wasn't, but her skating scene with Hamill is pretty impressive.)
3. Harold Sakata
1948 silver medal Olympic weighlifter
Harold Sakata represented the U.S. in weightlifting in the 1948 Summer Olympics, taking home the silver medal when he successfully lifted more than 900 lbs over his head. But by 1964, he became arguably even more famous by appearing as the Bond henchman Oddjob in the movie Goldfinger. After that iconic role, we saw a lot more of Sakata on classic shows, including Gilligan's Island, The Rockford Files and Hawaii Five-O. He also co-starred in the short-lived 1972 series Sarge and had a brief stint as a professional wrestler named Tosh Togo.
4. Noel Harrison
1952 and 1956 Olympic skier
Actor, singer and Olympian Noel Harrison went to his first games in 1952, joining the British ski team at a mere 18 years old. Then he went to the Olympics again in 1956. But after his Olympic skiing days were through, Harrison hopped ship to the United States, where his acting career really took off. Now he is best known for his recurring role in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. From the 1960s through the 1990s, he appeared on dozens of shows, but here you can see him debuting his Girl from U.N.C.L.E. character Mark Slate on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as well as dropping by The Love Boat in 1984.
5. Johnny Weissmuller
5-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer
No one in the swimming world could touch Johnny Weissmuller in the '20s, when he was known as one of the fastest swimmers there was. On top of individual gold medals he picked up like they were coins in Super Mario World, he also won a bronze medal as part of the U.S. water polo team. Still, the world-famous swimmer has a whole other reputation rooted in his TV and movie work. Most famously, he played the part of Tarzan the Ape Man through the '30s and '40s. But fans may recall he also starred in a TV version of Tarzan in a series called Jungle Jim that lasted one season in the mid-'50s.
6. Caitlyn Jenner
1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist
After a knee injury took Caitlyn Jenner out of college football, Olympic coach L.D. Weldon helped the athlete train instead to compete in track and field at the world's highest level. The result was one of the games' most-coveted gold medals, which signifies the bearer is the "world's greatest athlete." Then the '80s came, and Jenner started acting, including a recurring role on CHiPs and guest parts on Murder, She Wrote, The Fall Guy and The Love Boat (also pictured here).
7. Bruce Bennett
1928 Olympic shot put silver medalist
After Bruce Bennett took home the Silver in 1928, the athlete moved to LA and landed a screentest for MGM. It actually got him cast as Tarzan, the role that ultimately went to Johnny Weissmuller after Bennett broke his shoulder. Instead, after he recovered, he began acting in bit parts in films and that carried him through to the 1950s, when he was cast in TV shows like The Loretta Young Show and 77 Sunset Strip. Later in the '60s and '70s, he appeared in five episodes of Perry Mason and four episodes of Lassie. We can only hope the TV dog took advantage of his guest star's throwing arm in a friendly game of catch!
8. Esther Williams
1940 Olympic swimmer
The swimmer Esther Williams actually trained with Johnny Weissmuller for the Olympic games she qualified for in 1940, but unfortunately, Williams never got to compete due to the start of World War II. Then, in a stroke of luck, the swimmer caught the eye of MGM, which helped her pivot to acting in movies from the '40s through the '60s. Toward the end of her acting career, though, she also stopped by The Donna Reed Show with a guest starring role as one of Donna's good old friends.