Olympic Athletes Know Music, Too!
Games and Rings’ Spotify Playlist Celebrates Olympian Musicians
We generally recognize that Olympic athletes are accomplished, driven, and talented humans — of course, in sport. But often they display drive and talent beyond the playing field, too. Some have been — or are — accomplished musicians. Others, not so much despite best — or lackluster — efforts.
From classical and opera, to country and reggae, and pop and hip-hop, the breadth of music is represented well in the annals of Olympic musicians. Let’s take a look at some history of Olympic athletes making music.
Success stories can be found as far back as Micheline Ostermeyer (London 1948), who fielded a long career as a pianist after winning three Olympic medals. Anne Pashley (Melbourne 1956) was known as the “fastest singer in the garden” as she transitioned from sprint track success to a 30-year profession as an opera soprano. Martin Lauer (Rome 1960) was a well-received country singer after a sprint relay gold medal. Runner Madeline Manning (Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Montreal 1976) continues a gospel career in her chaplain work.
Basketball star Wayman Tisdale (Los Angeles 1984) released eight jazz albums before his 2009 death. Sprinter Jon Drummond (Sydney 2000, Atlanta 1996) had a successful stint embedded with the Kirk Franklin & The Family gospel choir. Middle-distance runner Joanne Fenn (Athens 2004) had a music career and appeared on Fame Academy ahead of her Games appearance. You can count Vanessa Vanakorn (er, Vanessa-Mae), too, as the violinist had a prolific musical run before an appearance in Sochi 2014’s Alpine skiing competition.
More recently, basketball players Carlos Arroyo (2004) and Damian Lillard (Tokyo 2020), as Dame D.O.L.L.A., have established respect in reggaeton and hip-hop, respectively. Triple jumper Will Claye (London 2012, Rio 2016, 2020) has serious ambitions for his own hip-hop career, and four-time Olympic Alpine skier Tina Maze (Salt Lake 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010, 2014) had a top Slovenian hit for her pop debut. Hard music is represented, too. Downhill skiing specialist Dominik Paris (2010, 2014, Pyeongchang 2018, Beijing 2022) is an established heavy metal artist, and luger Igor Lobanov (Albertville 1992) has been in Slot since 2002.
From ice hockey, Henrik Lundqvist (2006, 2010, 2014) is well-known as a guitarist and a member (with John McEnroe!) of The Noise Upstairs band. Fellow NHL’er Ryan Miller (2010, 2014) has also been known to dabble in rock music as well.
Plenty of Olympic athletes don’t reach the musical success they may have expected after seeing sports rewards, but vanity and perhaps over-eager agents being what they are, a lot sure do try.
Boxing provides a particularly rich but mixed record; perhaps there’s something particular about a boxer’s bravado causing a connection. And perhaps there’s pull to emulate “the Greatest”, as a (pre-Muhammad Ali) Cassius Clay (1960) scored a hit with a rare singing attempt — his 1964 rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” reached Billboard’s ‘Bubbling Under Hot 100’ chart.
Roy Jones, Jr. (Seoul 1988), Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (1996), and Oscar de la Hoya (Barcelona 1992) all had their musical moments — de la Hoya even securing a Grammy nomination.
Los Angeles 1984’s biggest star, sprinter Carl Lewis, often gets the poster-child treatment for unfortunate musical attempts, especially after cringe-worthy singles and “failed” anthem attempts. Points for perseverance, though, as he did release two full-length albums in the run-up to Seoul 1988.
Tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki (2012, 2016) got the critical side-eye with her 2012 charity single, “Oxygen”. And, soccer player Alexi Lalas (1992, 1996) hasn’t let the critics stop him from releasing seven albums.
Speaking of soccer, the 2018 release “Suave” hasn’t really seemed to jumpstart a career for superstar Dani Alves (2020), nor did the tease of “Yo Necesito” for Neymar (2012, 2016). Basketball icon Kobe Bryant (2008, 2012) had an “ill-fated foray into rap” in 2000 that disappeared rather quickly. But fellow basketball-er Allen Iverson (2004) may get the award for quickest career stop, though, as his rap debut was unceremoniously grounded before takeoff.
The Beat Goes On
Hit or miss, the music keeps coming. Superstar sprinter Usain Bolt (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016) debuted a fun-if-safe reggae album in 2021. Diver Chris Mears (2012, 2016) has made headlines as a DJ. Gymnast McKayla Maroney (2012) surprised with Covid-19 pandemic-inspired pop tracks. Swimmer Lydia Jacoby (2020) moonlights in the ‘bluegrass string’ Snow River String Band. Classical music-trained figure skater Eric Radford (2014, 2018) released three singles in 2021 while still while still working toward Beijing 2022. And fencer Alex Choupenitch (2016, 2020) released his latest hip-hop single in 2021.
Today’s unique media certainly opens up new exposure, too. Music reality television has revealed surprises: hurdler Shevon Nieto (2004, Beijing 2008) and long jumper Jazmin Sawyers (2016, 2020) made impressions with noted R&B appearances. And tennis superstar Serena Williams (2000, 2008, 2012, 2016) stunned with an Instagram rendition of “I Touch Myself” in 2018. Figure skater Adam Rippon (2018) went ‘viral’ with a brief gala singing moment on the ice to “Diamonds”, as did Team Fiji with their gospel-infused victory celebration at Tokyo 2020.
And of course, plenty of Olympians let off steam with lip syncs and parodies…witness Team Great Britain’s diving team (with a baby-faced Tom Daley!) from 2012, or USA Swimming stars multiple attempts at group fun. Cyclist Chris Hoy (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) and heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill (2012, 2016) led a tribute to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in 2012. Today’s ‘always on’ culture caught field hockey player Nicky Veto (2020) getting loose with song and dance ahead of Tokyo 2020, and track stars Tara Davis (2020) and Hunter Woodhall (Paralympics 2020) trying not to sing. (One hopes they all keep their day jobs!)
A Spotify Playlist
An on-going project of Games and Rings is a curated playlist on Spotify*, featuring music from Olympic athletes, across genres and decades, hits and misses. In addition to many of the athletes mentioned above, you can hear from ice hockey star Theo Fleury (Nagano 1998, 2002), figure skater Yuna Kim (2010, 2014), gymnast Carly Patterson (2004), cross-country skier Andy Newell (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018), basketball star Shaquille O’Neal (1996), and others. Let me know in the comments who I’m missing and should include!
But, alas, nothing from either ice hockey player Ales Music (2014, 2018) or weightlifter Amar Music (2016). Yet? Nor anything from either Games-unaffiliated ‘doo-wop group’ The Olympics or Czech rock group Olympic!
Happy listening! And check out more Olympic-related playlists on Spotify from Games and Rings here.
*Note, to listen to the playlist, you’ll need a Spotify account, for which you can sign up for free.