The World's Greatest Athlete is a 1973 American feature film released by the Walt Disney Company. It starred John Amos, Roscoe Lee Browne, Tim Conway, Dayle Haddon, and Jan-Michael Vincent . 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.
In a series of establishing shots, Sam Archer and his assistant Milo Jackson are depicted as coaches at the fictitious Merrivale College; their teams invariably lose. A series of plot coincidences sends the pair to Africa, where they catch sight with their Safari guide Morumba of the Tarzan-like Nanu, 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 (Browne). Nanu, it develops, 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 movie 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. Jane and Nanu's budding relationship angers rival Leopold Maxwell 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 movie ends with a framing device in which the hapless coaches are depicted trying to recruit a new athletic phenomenon, this time in China.
- Much of the film was shot at University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California, and in the Newhall neighborhood of Santa Clarita, California. The live-action jungle scenes were shot at Caswell Memorial State Park, on the Stanislaus River outside of Ripon, California.
- Nanu's closest companion is a pet tiger named Harry, which he brings with him from Africa to California; however, tigers are not native to Africa. Nanu explains that the tiger emigrated from India to Africa as a cub.
- A copyright renewal for the film was registered on August 3, 2001.
- Tim Conway as Milo Jackson
- Jan-Michael Vincent as Nanu
- John Amos as Coach Sam Archer
- Roscoe Lee Browne as Gazenga
- Dayle Haddon as Jane
- Billy De Wolfe as Dean Maxwell
- Nancy Walker as Mrs. Petersen
- Danny Goldman as Leopold Maxwell
- Don Pedro Colley as Morumba
- Vito Scotti as Games spectator
- Liam Dunn as Dr. Winslow
- Ivor Francis as Dean Bellamy
- Leon Askin as Dr. Gottlieb
- Howard Cosell as Himself - Announcer
- Frank Gifford as Himself - Announcer