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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

With Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim!: 8 Olympians who made fun of themselves

Illustration for article titled With Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim!: 8 Olympians who made fun of themselves

1. Kerri Strug meets Kippy Strug on Saturday Night Live (1996)
Olympians train with extraordinary focus and dedication for what could be a single moment on international sports’ greatest stage. So it’s only natural that after the games are over, they often want to let off steam by poking fun at themselves in public. Kerri Strug’s 1996 appearance on Saturday Night Live is an exemplar of post-Olympics self-satire. Strug’s final vault in the 1996 Atlanta games’ team all-around gymnastics competition—with a fairly clean landing despite her injured ankle—clinched a gold medal and guaranteed that she would be the subject of Olympic retrospectives for decades to come. On SNL, Strug laughed at her perky, plucky, media-friendly attitude by appearing alongside her “brother,” Kippy Strug, played by Chris Kattan. Although Kattan was never known for his subtlety, this segment does have an unspoken edge to it, as Kippy’s I’m-a-widdle-baby delivery shows how annoying Kerri’s sunniness would be if it weren’t offset by Olympic pomp. Still, Strug was the epitome of a good sport here, because when you’ve got a gold medal in your trophy case, it gets a whole lot easier to endure a few jokes at your expense.


2. Mary Lou Retton plays a backflipping Tiny Tim in Scrooged (1988)
Kerri Strug was hardly the first Olympic star in the “perky female gymnast” mold. She benefited from a media narrative that had been established by predecessors like Mary Lou Retton. After Retton won the all-around gymnastics gold at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, she acquired a national celebrity unrivaled by any other Olympian—her photogenic grin and girl-next-door affability didn’t hurt either. The Bill Murray vehicle Scrooged used her cheery persona to cynical effect, imagining a schlocky made-for-TV adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which she played Tiny Tim. Her “casting” in the role encapsulates the fictional IBC network’s craven approach: The programming executives want the gymnast for her perkiness and marketing appeal, and nobody seems to care that she’s outlandishly ill suited for the role of a meek crippled boy.

3. Ryan Lochte serves as a rich woman’s “sex idiot” on 30 Rock (2012)
For the last three Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps has been the main focus of Olympic swimming coverage in the United States, which figures. He is the most decorated Olympian of all time after all. But Ryan Lochte, one of Phelps’ American teammates in the pool, gained his own renown in 2012—partly for being an also-excellent swimmer, and partly for being a moron. In interviews, Lochte came off as a muscle-bound savant whose brain could handle the sophisticated coordination of swimming, but struggled to string together a coherent sentence. Add in his good looks and perpetually chill demeanor, and you had the ultimate Olympian bro. How does a dude with such singular talents make something of himself once the Olympics are over? 30 Rock had one idea: Make him a “sex idiot” who provides a little ass on the side for one of Jack Donaghy’s paramours. This role—which provided a counterpoint to Donaghy’s father-figure aura in the episode—was perfect for Lochte: It took his persona to its logical conclusion, it proved that he’s a good sport, and the part of “attractive doofus” wasn’t exactly a stretch of Lochte’s acting chops.


4. Shaun White wiggles his famous hair on Go On (2013)
Lochte provided an easy gag for 30 Rock, but a guest appearance by snowboarder Shaun White was more of a challenge for the short-lived NBC sitcom Go On. In the episode “Gooooaaaallll Doll!” Matthew Perry’s widower character attempts to date for the first time since his wife died, but the object of his affection is distracted when buff gold medalist Shaun White shows up and acts all manly and attractive. Unfortunately for the writers of Go On, it’s hard to extract comedy from an Olympian when you only make jokes about how awesome he is. Because White is so blandly great at what he does, the best running gag this episode can muster is a hair joke: White can supposedly entrance women with a casual flip of his copious red locks. Granted, this is the hair that earned him the nickname The Flying Tomato, but to treat it as a sexual totem suggests a writing staff that was forcibly compelled to huff the fumes of NBC’s Olympic synergy.

5. Greg Louganis proselytizes the delights of Olympic pin collecting on Portlandia (2012)
To some dedicated fans of the Olympics trading and collecting commemorative pins is a big deal. That’s how diver Greg Louganis sold Portlandia’s Fred and Carrie on the Olympics in “No Olympics”—after he showed them the scar he got from banging his head on the diving board at the Seoul Games. Prior to meeting Louganis, the duo had been running around town with an anti-Olympics torch, bemoaning the potential arrival in Portland of athletes “running around with their big muscles.” Once they run into Louganis and hear him reminisce about his three appearances in the Olympics—which, he noted, aren’t about “mainstream sports like football”—Fred and Carrie soften their hard anti-Games stance. But the pins really seal the deal.


6. Jonny Moseley has an “extreme wedding” on Saturday Night Live (2002)
Puerto Rican-born freestyle skier Jonny Moseley failed to medal at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, but a colorful personality and a stable of signature tricks made him the de facto pick for Saturday Night Live’s post-Olympics host that year. With musical guest Outkast (performing “The Whole World” and “Ms. Jackson” in full-on 21st century P-Funk mode), the episode makes a fitting 2002 time capsule—with the exception of the night’s final sketch, “Extreme Wedding.” Moseley’s chosen discipline plays a role in most of his SNL spotlight moments, but “Extreme Wedding” plays off Mountain Dew-chugging, “brah”-spouting action-sports stereotypes that were stale in 1995. In tuxedos and snow gear, Moseley, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, and Jeff Richards reel off an increasingly dangerous, injury-plagued wedding itinerary, only to be interrupted by Amy Poehler’s disgruntled bride-to-be. The trick that made Moseley famous, The Dinner Roll, makes a cameo appearance in a wackier, funnier sketch earlier in the episode; its “Extreme Wedding” shout-out just sounds desperate and hokey. Considering the audience’s tepid response, it’s a miracle that four of the five people in the scene are still NBC employees. (Moseley’s ongoing Olympics commentary gig just might be the truest measure of Lorne Michaels’ clout at the network.)


7. Tara Lipinski channels Jeffrey Lebowski on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (2014)
As half of the quippiest, best-dressed press-box duo working for the networks of NBC, Tara Lipinski has become something of a cult phenomenon during the Sochi games. Appropriately enough, she spent the lead-up to that gig channeling another cult phenomenon, grabbing the slacker duds and favored beverage of Jeffrey Lebowski for a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. In an Audience Suggestion Box segment taped shortly before Fallon’s jump to The Tonight Show, the skater twists and twirls (but sadly doesn’t twizzle) to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” one of the most prominent songs in The Big Lebowski’s soundtrack. It’s not the most complicated routine the gold medalist has ever performed, but her form and commitment to the gag are impeccable. And it deserves to be said: She’s very careful, man, there’s a beverage there.

8. Scott Hamilton effuses over the “Galloping Peacock” in Blades Of Glory (2007)
When Olympic athletes take advantage of an opportunity to poke fun at themselves, there’s often a tendency to take their performance so far over the top that it diminishes the effectiveness of their appearance. Not so for Scott Hamilton, who appears as one of the announcers in the figure skating spoof Blades Of Glory. Hamilton delivers his color commentary in such unwinking fashion that, were the movie’s routines not filled with ridiculous maneuvers (the Galloping Peacock) and creative turns of phrase (“This cowboy is cracking his whip on the haunch of this crowd, and they love it!”), Hamilton’s patter could pass for the real thing. Perhaps, Hamilton nailed the role because he had the opportunity to cut his fake-announcing teeth by judging a dog dancing competition in an episode of King Of The Hill. Whatever the case, Hamilton is able to instill just the right amount of excitement into an absurd pronouncement like “Women’s skating champion Sasha Cohen catches Michaels’ jock strap” and make it sound simultaneously realistic and hilarious.

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