The Actors Who Could Have Been Olympians

As the 2016 Olympics in Rio gets properly underway, let’s have a look at some of the screen stars who almost made it to the podium…

Jason Statham

It’s hard to imagine Stath doing anything other than punching faces and torsos these days, but there was a time when he was punching through the surface tension as a member of the National Diving Squad, with which he competed for 12 years. Sporting both hair and a pair of skimpy Speedos, he represented England at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, finishing 11th in both the three-metre springboard and the 10-metre platform. He was later spotted by a sports modelling agency while training at Crystal Palace, and then it was into modelling, dancing in music videos, then his acting debut as Bacon in ‘Lock, Stock…’ in 1998.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis is a hugely talented archer. Obviously. Oddly, she took the sport up in later life, picking up a bow aged 41. However, she proved so naturally skilled that she became a very realistic prospect for the US Olympic team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, after she ‘trained and trained like crazy’. “I take everything too far,” she told EW. “I’m at the Olympic trials in my forties for something I just took up! It was the most out of body experience I’ve ever had. It was fabulous. I will never forget about it.” She was inspired to take it up after watching the 1996 Olympics, notably US archer Justin Huish. Huish hooked her up with a coach, and soon she was practising five hours a day, six days a week. Sadly, she didn’t make the final cut. But you can check out her skills online

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Robert Stack

Skeet is best known for roles in movies like ‘The High And The Mighty’ with John Wayne, ‘Written On The Wind’, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and ‘Airplane!’, in which he played grizzled airline captain Rex Kramer. But as a young man, the Olympiad beckoned. As well as being a skilled polo player, he was an expert shot. He became a member of the All-American skeet shooting team aged 16, and later became National Champion. He even set two world records, and in 1971 was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame. Acting, however, took over after he was talent spotted during a chance visit to Universal Studios, aged 20.

Salma Hayek

The ‘Frida’ actress was a hugely talented young gymnast, so much so that she was called on for the Mexican national team. “They drafted me… to be part of the Olympic team!” she said. “But I was eight or nine and my father said no because I would have had to go live in Mexico City in a boarding school for gymnasts, do six hours, eight hours a day of training, which for me was like paradise. My father thought I wouldn’t have had a normal childhood, and he wanted me to be normal. It’s too bad that with all his efforts it didn’t work out!” Oddly, she’s related to Yvonne Treviño Hayek, who’s competing at Rio 2016 in the long jump. The Hayeks are clearly sporty folk.

Strother Martin

Best known for his iconic line ‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,’ from the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke’ with Paul Newman (as well as roles in movies by legends like John Ford and Sam Peckinpah), Martin was almost better known for his sporting prowess. Aged 17, he won the National Junior Springboard Championship, and was later a swimming instructor in the Navy during World War II and a member of the diving team at the University of Michigan. He entered the National Springboard Diving competition after the war, in the hope of gaining a place on the Olympic team, but finished third. He became an instructor and stunt swimmer for the movies, and the rest is history.

Bruce Dern

Though Bruce Dern – actor father of Laura – claims he was never good enough for the Olympics, he’s been a competitive runner all his life. He was also a competitive speed skater where he grew up in Chicago up to the age of 11. He trained hard at running through college, regularly competing in meetings around the country against competitors like Tom Courtney and Ron Delany, who would go on to Olympic glory. But Dern never felt that he ‘measured up’, he told Runner’s World. He left college and quit the team, however, after his coach told him he had to cut his sideburns off.

Image credits: YouTube/BBC/FunnyOrDie/Rex Features/Warner Bros/AP