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The World's Greatest Athlete
The World's Greatest Athlete poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Produced by Bill Walsh
Written by Dee Caruso
Gerald Gardner
Starring John Amos
Roscoe Lee Browne
Tim Conway
Dayle Haddon
Jan-Michael Vincent
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Cinematography Frank V. Phillips
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) February 1, 1973
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Money made $22,583,370

The World's Greatest Athlete is a 1973 American film directed by Robert Scheerer and starring John Amos, Roscoe Lee Browne, Tim Conway, Dayle Haddon, and Jan-Michael Vincent. Released by Walt Disney Productions, it is one of the few wide-release Hollywood sports films to look at the world of track and field, as the "World's Greatest Athlete", Nanu, played by Vincent, tries to make history by winning every event at the NCAA Track & Field Championship. The screenplay was by Dee Caruso and Gerald Gardner who also did a novelisation of the film.


Sam Archer (Amos) and his assistant Milo Jackson (Conway) are coaches at Merrivale College. They have lost every game in every sport which they have coached, raising the concerns of the head of the Alumni Association. With only one year left on his contract, Archer decides that he is in need of a vacation. Together, Archer and Jackson head to Zambia in Southern Africa.

While out on a safari, the pair catch sight with their guide Morumba of the Tarzan-like Nanu (Jan-Michael Vincent), who can outrun a cheetah in full bound. Seeing this, the coaching staff quickly whip out their recruitment pen and papers, but soon fall (literally) into the clutches of Nanu's godfather, spiritual leader Gazenga (Roscoe Lee Browne). Because Nanu is an orphan and an innocent child of the bush, Gazenga believes that throwing Nanu into the world of competitive United States college athletics would interfere with his spiritual development.

Despite Gazenga's concerns, the ambitious coaches persuade Nanu to join the Merrivale College program. From this point forward, the plot is driven by a combination of slapstick and suspense, for Nanu's destiny as the World's Greatest Athlete will annoy several powerful people who are used to getting their way.

Nanu's innocence, Archer's scheming, Jackson's ineptitude, Gazenga's outraged wisdom, and the Machiavellian plotting of the villains all play roles in the action as the film heads toward the final track meet. The atmosphere of American competition does indeed threaten Nanu, but he is saved from disintegration by love interest Jane Douglas (Dayle Haddon). Jane and Nanu's budding relationship angers rival Leopold Maxwell (Danny Goldman), whose attempts to sabotage the budding star build toward a crescendo as the ultimate competition approaches. The climactic track meet is peppered with commentary by ABC-TV sportscaster Howard Cosell, playing himself.

The film ends with a framing device in which the hapless coaches are depicted trying to recruit a new athletic phenomenon, this time in China.


The film also features many prolific athletes and sports journalists in small or cameo roles, including Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, Jim McKay, Bud Palmer, Joe Kapp, and Bill Toomey.

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