You’d be hard pressed to find someone who is not emotionally invested in either a single sports franchise or their country’s Olympic team. We live in an age where sports fanaticism is borderline theological, and it’s hard to remember that off the field these athletes are normal, everyday people, and that their actions will have the same implications as anyone else’s. On the 30th birthday of a man who personifies this duality, Michael Phelps, we have chosen to celebrate his image with a list of good and bad stories from the world of sports that should be made into films.
Forget statistics and ESPN’s technicalities, this is the most badass sports story, ever. For those who don’t know: Jesse Owens was a college track and field star that attended Ohio State University. A year after breaking every colligate record, he attended the 1936 Olympics held in Hitler’s Germany. Not only did he kick Aryan ass, Owens went on to win 4 gold medals with a smug, notably perturbed Hitler in attendance.
Possible Director: We should spare the over-dramatization and reverse the focus, so I like the Coen Brothers here. They’ve never tried their hand at either aspect, and I think their relaxed approach could bring a sense of realism, minus any hokey melodrama. Plus, they have an even handed way of handling good vs. evil power dynamics that no one else does.
This one might get a little bit crazy, but it stays centered on sports. Lee Murray was born in London, England to a hairstylist and an alcoholic kitchen worker. He had a horrible upbringing reflected in his many altercations with the law. After some wild teenage years, he became a professional MMA fighter, starting out with an 8-1-1 record. But his fame wasn’t enough and he believed he was horribly compensated, so Murray decided to rob a bank, which could feel like an understatement of the facts, given that what he really did was pull off the largest heist ever. Murray nabbed 53 million Euros (or roughly $100 million dollars). The full story is definitely worth a read, as it distinguishes Murray as being one of the craziest athletes ever.
Possible Director: Danny Boyle. His ability to focus and highlight character traits amidst frenetic chaos is undeniable, showcased in Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours.
Going from one of the most inspiring people ever to quite possibly the biggest piece of shit ever flushed out of admiration, Oscar Pistorius’ story is glaringly surreal. Pistorius was born without the fibula in both of his legs, resulting in a double amputation. He later began competing in the Special Olympics with prosthetic legs, earning him the cinema-friendly nickname, “Blade Runner.” Pistorious went on to win numerous gold medals before gaining enough recognition to compete with able-bodied competitors in the 2012 Olympics, where he put on a good showing. Then, the story turns sour; on Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius was at home when he claims to have thought an “intruder” came into his home. After scrambling to grab his gun, he fatally shot the person. It turns out the “intruder” was his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who obviously had access to his home. Several testimonies dispute his self-defense claim. He has since faced trial and has been sentenced to five years for culpable homicide (awaiting his appeal hearing). Pistorious still claims it was an accidental shooting.
Possible Director: This story will require a deep dive from light to dark. Darren Arnofsky should take the helm here. He knows dark. His style would fully represent what most believe to be the revelation of an international hero as a coward with homicidal intentions and a questionable moral conscience.
In 2004 and 2008 Michael Phelps decided he was going to medal at every event he took part in, earning his status as the most decorated American athlete ever. Twenty-two medals (18 Gold), a series of egregious Subway commercials, and numerous world records later, Phelps has become an icon and a household name. But, he wasn’t always in top form, as two DUIs and the infamous water bong incident have shown, tainting his legacy in the process (for some). Again, there is presented in his story an examination of the difference between heroes and humans, an early 20s icon of incomparable ability, whose accomplishments are diluted simply by being a standard male in his early 20s.
Possible Director: I can think of no one better to capture the blissful awkwardness of Michael Phelps than Harmony Korine, director of Spring Breakers. The guy has grasp on how to make weird and crazy worth watching, and doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, so we’d get some kind of telling portraiture of Phelps’ image. Can you imagine a Phelps montage with Brittany Spears music blaring alongside victory and celebration?
Steven Bradbury is quite possible the luckiest man alive, but that doesn’t take away from him winning a world championship. Bradbury was a speed skater for Australia that gave his country their first winter Olympics Gold in the 5000m relay, but he had never won as an individual, so, during the 2002 Olympics, he decided to take part in the 1000m sprint, where he would win in the most unlikely fashion imaginable. He had failed to qualify in a race that featured Apolo Ohno and Marc Gagnon, but Gagon was disqualified, which pushed Bradbury to the semifinals. In the next race, three of the four leading racers crashed, allotting Bradbury another second place finish and a spot in the finals. Well, to all his glory, the same thing happened in the final race (everyone crashed) granting him a first place finish and a gold medal (wildly lucky).
Possible Director: This is a fool’s gold type of deal. We need something fun, but serious, while giving the story a heartfelt tone. I mean this guy became a national icon after the fact, which is exactly what the film should play off of. Start with him winning, explain the build up, finish with his celebrity, and that’s perfect for Edgar Wright.
These Olympic Games stand as the most significant there have ever been, due in large part to the courage and sentiment expressed by the now famous Black Power Salute. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were both part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (a group that came to be after South African sprinters were banned from attending the Olympics after qualifying), which organized many nonviolent protests against the Olympics for its continuing segregation. The two aforementioned sprinters who won Gold (Smith) and Bronze (Carlos) stood on the podium, raising one hand in a black glove each to signify their stance. Their move received much backlash, as they were banned from the Olympic Village and suspended from the team, but the statement stands as one of the most important gestures ever offered up by an athlete.
Possible Director: Possibly the most significant event in sports history, there are a ton of possible directions the film could pursue. We could hope for a telling drama that spares the overused sports cliches. I like Ava DuVernay; she has the cultural perspective to deliver integrity to the story.