Special Reports

7 Olympians Who Deserve Their Own Broadway Musical

We’ve seen them in the Brazilian arena — now let’s see them on the Broadway stage!

Michael Phelps has won more gold medals than anyone in the history of the modern Olympic Games…but can he sing and act and dance?
Michael Phelps has won more gold medals than anyone in the history of the modern Olympic Games…but can he sing and act and dance?
(© Marco Paköeningrat)

We're accustomed to stories from the recording industry taking the Broadway stage. Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!, and Beautiful — The Carole King Musical: They each come with a score of surefire hits used to tell the story of the artists who wrote and performed them. But anyone who has been watching the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil (or really, the Olympic Games on any given year) knows that the world of sports has even more compelling tales of triumph, defeat, bitter rivalry, and love.

These are subjects that have always inspired musical-theater composers. With that in mind, here are seven potential Broadway musicals that could spring from this year's Olympic Games.

1. Simone Biles: High Flying, Adored!
This show would be worth it for the choreography alone. American gymnast Simone Biles has been hailed by 1984 gold medalist Mary Lou Retton as, "The best I've ever seen." And considering her position following the qualifying round of the individual all-around (two full points ahead of her closest competitor, Team USA's Aly Raisman), it's hard to argue with that. Can you imagine trying to re-create one of Biles' spectacular floor routines in a Broadway theater? (We strongly recommend Circle in the Square for optimal in-the-round viewing.) On top of her impressive acrobatics, Biles has a compelling personal story: Placed into foster care when she was just a toddler due to her mother's drug addiction, she and her sister were later adopted by her grandparents. There are definitely some tearful mother-daughter ballads in this musical, which would also feature plenty of vaulting production numbers and a fierce "I want" song.

2. Love Underwater: The Katinka Hosszu and Shane Tusup Story
Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu has been a force of nature at the Rio games, easily smashing the world record in the 400-meter individual medley by two full seconds. Despite her achievements, much attention has gone to her husband, Shane Tusup, and his theatrical reactions in the stands. Tusup — who has Hosszu's nickname, "Iron Lady," tattooed on his left bicep — is also her coach. Several people have questioned the intense nature of their relationship, with some suggesting that Tusup's coaching methods cross the line into abuse. As Hosszu continues to compete, her man-bunned husband and his extreme brand of love will undoubtedly hover over the pool like the Phantom of the Opera. Their story poses several challenging questions about feminism and the state of modern relationships: It's like Waitress, but instead of making pies, the protagonist makes gold medals.

3. Goal! Ayman Hussein's Triumph Over Terror
In 2008, soccer player Ayman Hussein's father was murdered by Al-Qaeda. Six years later, he watched the terrorist group ISIS sweep through his village in Northern Iraq and abduct his brother. Still, he never stopped playing the game he loves and earlier this year, he scored the winning goal in a qualifying match against Qatar, giving Team Iraq one of the coveted 12 slots for Olympic soccer. With a Misérablean range of emotions, Hussein's story has enough drama for several shows. And considering the sport's global popularity, we have to ask: Why aren't there more soccer-themed musicals?

4. The Unsinkable Yusra Mardini
18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini was a promising up-and-comer for Team Syria when the civil war in that country forced her to flee for Europe last summer. After reaching Turkey, Mardini and her sister boarded an overcrowded inflatable dinghy that stalled and began taking on water within the first 30 minutes of the journey. Of the 20 passengers, only three could swim. Assessing the perilous situation, Mardini jumped into the water and helped push the boat all the way to Greece, saving the lives of everyone onboard. She is now competing for the refugee team at the Rio Olympics. Like the Titanic's Molly Brown before her, Mardini makes a compelling subject for a musical. Pushing her boat and singing a driving tune all the way, she would be like an amphibious Mother Courage.

5. The Golden Years of Oksana Chusovitina
When professional gymnast Oksana Chusovitina began competing, the Soviet Union was still a thing. In fact, she competed for Team USSR before winning the 1992 Olympic gold under the banner of the Unified Team (for Soviet athletes after the fall of the Soviet Union). She went on to represent her native Uzbekistan until she made the difficult decision to relocate to Germany so that her son, Alisher, could receive treatment for leukemia. Alisher survived, and as a way to thank her adopted home, Chusovitina competed for Germany at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning silver on the vault. Now 41 years old (in a sport where few athletes are older than 25), she's back with Uzbekistan for her record-setting 7th Olympics. Her story is the story of gymnastics (and the wider world) over the last two decades and it would make a fierce Broadway musical. We can just imagine every "actress of a certain age" clamoring to play this part. It presents an incredible opportunity for stylistic pastiche, incorporating music from Russia, Germany, and Uzbekistan. Considering how so much of her story revolves around her love for her son, this would be the perfect show for a Mother's Day matinee.

6. Zahra Nemati: Wheels of a Dream
Wheelchair-bound Olympian Zahra Nemati made quite a splash when she rolled into the opening ceremonies bearing the flag of her home country, Iran. Her road to Rio has been especially dramatic: Nemati was a blackbelt in Taekwondo before a terrible 2003 car accident left her paralyzed. That would have been the end for most athletes, but not Nemati: She took up archery in 2006 and was soon competing on a professional level, eventually winning gold at the 2012 London Paralympics. Her story practically begs to become the kind of Broadway musical brimming with uplifting anthems and innovative stagecraft. And now that Ali Stroker has broken the wheelchair glass ceiling on Broadway, we're quite certain there is a talented performer out there ready to take on this plum role.

7. The Michael Phelps Aquatic Spectacular!
This would be more of a revue with only the thinnest veneer of plot, like Cats; but instead of having a grizzled hooker cat deliver the 11-o'clock number, it would be the most decorated Olympian of all time. Imagine a tank of water onstage full of chiseled water dancers. As they swim across the stage, voice doubles (ala Spring Awakening) could sing their innermost thoughts, turning a fairly straightforward race into a compelling mélange of personal narratives. Certainly, we all want to know what is going on behind the steely gaze of Michael Phelps. Might we suggest beloved Broadway beefcake Billy Magnussen for the role of Chad le Clos?