With all the pomp, pageantry, and superhuman performances, the Olympics are a biannual source of absurdity and thus ripe for comedic gold. Therefore, it’s only natural that Saturday Night Live would take a few shots at the Games when they roll around, finding laughs in the outsize personalities of the athletes, the unceasing and sometimes overwrought NBC coverage, and the fact that most of us mere mortals could never come close to competing at such high levels.
In celebration of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics kicking off, here’s a look back at the best SNL sketches that parodied the athletes and events. Enjoy the sketches and the Games!
“Olga Korbut” (1976)
With only one punch line, Gilda Radner, playing Russian gymnast Olga Korbut, and John Belushi, playing a European-accented version of himself, perfectly send up how ridiculous it is for athletes to pretend to be diplomatic after a crushing defeat.
“Little Chocolate Donuts” (1977)
How does Belushi get the energy he needs to win gold in the decathlon? With cigarettes and the sugar he gets from eating these treats every morning.
“Synchronized Swimming” (1984)
This brief mockumentary is an all-time SNL great with Martin Short and Harry Shearer playing brothers who are aiming to become the first men to compete in synchronized swimming. Christopher Guest plays a coach with the same vibe he’d later bring to Waiting for Guffman’s Corky St. Clair, and Shearer and Short play the kind of deluded oddball dreamers that would populate all of his films.
“The All-Drug Olympics” (1988)
Steroids were always a big issue during the ’80s Olympics, particularly after their widespread use at the 1980 Moscow games. This “Weekend Update” segment with Kevin Nealon and Phil Hartman looks at what would happen if the events included only athletes who were juicing with particularly gruesome results.
“Figure Skating Cold Open” (1992)
In a spot-on parody of those Olympic moments when an athlete just blows it on the biggest stage, Jason Priestly enthusiastically — and believably — pulls off a bunch of figure-skating moves that end in disaster.
“Lillehammer ’94” (1994)
Rather than poke more fun at host Nancy Kerrigan’s assault by Tonya Harding’s goons, SNL spoofed pairs figure skating with Chris Farley playing her on-ice partner whose massive weight gain has severely hurt their chances at medaling. It’s another reminder of how agile Farley truly was, made even funnier by the gentle commentary of Phil Hartman and David Spade and the soundtrack of Kenny G and “Pump Up the Jam.”
“Kerri Strug and Kippy Strug on Winning Olympic Gold” (1996)
After the badly injured Kerri Strug helped Team USA win gymnastics gold in 1996, she stopped by “Weekend Update” to discuss the moment alongside her equally high-pitched brother, Kippy (Chris Kattan). Mark McKinney appears as her infamously overbearing coach, Béla Károlyi, to encourage Kippy to power through to their next interview despite the fact that his foot has fallen asleep.
“SNL Olympics — Chris Kattan” (2000)
Rather than spoof an actual event, SNL in 2000 sent up NBC’s prerecorded behind-the-scenes Olympic segments that give an overly dramatic look at an athlete’s journey to the games. Here, we see Kattan — with an assist from Brendan Fraser and a disqualified-for-doping Tracy Morgan — as he readies himself to “compete” in an upcoming talk-show sketch, “Looks at Books.” (Watch the sketch here.)
“Mormons on the Slopes” (2002)
Dan Aykroyd made a return appearance to the show to join Will Ferrell as a pair of Mormons who take to the Salt Lake City slopes and try to convert a skiing Amy Poehler in the middle of her run. It hits on the typical Mormon jokes — the overly pushy recruitment, the polygamy, etc. — but it’s still a fun one.
“Swimming Instructor” (2006)
If you want to become a world-class swimmer, you go to Doug Frangelo. Played by John C. Reilly, the coach instructs Will Forte in the art of the pool, with nearly six minutes full of Speedo-laden, homoerotic gags. Their ability to not break character is astounding.
“The Michael Phelps Diet” (2008)
If you watched Michael Phelps’s record-shattering performance at the 2008 Olympics, you probably heard announcers discussing his massive caloric intake. The swimmer hosted SNL during his post-Games victory lap to tout his absurd diet to average people, which — spoiler alert — has grave consequences. Don’t watch if you can’t stomach seeing Subway pitchman Jared Fogle appearing as himself and saying, “This diet sucks a foot-long.”
“Telemundo Winter Olympics” (2010)
The premise here is that Telemundo’s announcers, played by Jennifer Lopez and Fred Armisen, can’t understand cold-weather sports or why Canadians don’t leave their country for the warmth. Regardless of the premise, you have to admit that ski jumping and curling are pretty strange pastimes for anyone to get into.
“Ryan Lochte on the Fall TV Lineup” (2012)
Four years before getting caught lying about being robbed at gunpoint during the Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte was simply known as being a somewhat dim but physically gifted swimmer. SNL ran with the former trait in this “Weekend Update” segment in which Lochte, played by Seth MacFarlane, talks about upcoming TV shows with all the smarts of a kindergartener. The real Lochte called it “harsh” and added, “I’m going to let whatever Seth MacFarlane did — I’m just going to let it be and just move forward. But anytime Seth wants to race me in a pool, I’ll be more than happy to.”
“The U.S. Men’s Heterosexual Figure Skating Championship” (2014)
In 2014, SNL decided to take on the Sochi Olympics, which were under scrutiny for myriad reasons including Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws, with another figure-skating spoof in which only straight men are allowed to compete. Robbed of the event’s usual flair, the competitors instead put on a display of oafish masculinity, eating Combos on the ice and getting overly handsy with a female partner, among other desecrations of the sport.
“Olya Povlatsky on the Sochi Olympics” (2014)
Kate McKinnon’s downtrodden Russian villager character, Olya Povlatsky, returned to “Weekend Update” in 2014 to discuss Sochi and wonder why the IOC picked this random city to host the event. This iteration features a bunch of McKinnon’s trademark bizarreness like when she explains her favorite childhood sport, “running away from angry wolf.”
“Leslie Jones on the 2018 Winter Olympics” (2018)
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Leslie Jones went viral by live-tweeting along with NBC’s coverage, hilariously and passionately dissecting the events even when she didn’t understand them. The tweets were such a hit that the network sent her down to South America to work as a correspondent, and she returned to the role two years later for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She came back to “Weekend Update” to give a recap of the experience, bringing along U.S. Women’s Hockey gold medalist Hilary Knight to give Colin Jost a special message: “You’s a bitch!”