Silver screen, gold medalists: Olympians pick top sports films

Warner Bros. Pictures; Sarika Dani, NBC News

Left, Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby"; right, boxing gold medal baby Claressa Shields, 17.

The London Games are winding down, and it's a long time until the 2014 Winter Olympics. But you don't have to wait that long to experience the thrill of victory again there are plenty of inspiring and entertaining sports moments to be enjoyed through the magic of the movies. We asked Olympians from many disciplines to reveal their favorite sports films; here are the ones they put on their personal podiums.

Claressa Shields, boxing

The 17-year-old who won the first U.S. gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing names “Ali,” starring Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, and “Million Dollar Baby,” which won Hilary Swank a Best Actress Oscar as a boxer who beats the odds, among her favorite sports films. “They both have something to do with boxing and they are both good stories,” she told TODAY.com.

Jamie Gray, shooting

“‘Miracle’ is such an inspiration,” Gray told TODAY.com, referring to the 2004 film about the U.S. men's hockey team's remarkable gold medal win over the heavily favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. “I always watch before matches,” she added, but confessed that at the London Games, “I fell asleep.” (No harm done; Gray is bringing home the gold in the women's 50m rifle, 3 positions.)

NBC, MGM

Pole vaulter Jenn Suhr loves "Rocky IV."

Jenn Suhr, track & field

Suhr is a pole vaulter, so it's a bit of a surprise that her favorite sports film is a boxing movie: "Rocky IV." Why? “Because of the fight between Rocky and Ivan Drago!” she exclaimed. “Plus, our training center in Rochester, New York is called the Meat Cooler," she added. "It’s a big metal and steel building. It reminds us of the scenes from the movie.”

Serena Williams, tennis

The tennis superstar was one of the two Olympians TODAY.com spoke to whose favorite sports film is a comedy (the other was swimmer Matt Grevers, who chose "Cool Runnings," the John Candy film about a Jamaican Olympic bobsledding team). "Easy, it’s 'Talladega Nights'!" Williams said. For motivation, Williams turns to the inspiring (and fully trademarked) words of NASCAR legend Ricky Bobby, played by Will Ferrell: "If you ain’t first, you’re last."

NBC, Buena Vista Pictures

Aly Raisman, gymnastics

Chalk up another vote for "Miracle": "It’s really inspiring and the captain of the team is from my hometown in Massachusetts.” So, does the multiple medal winner watch before every competition? "No, I’ve just watched it before so I like it a lot," she told TODAY.com. "I think it's a good movie."

Marlen Esparza, boxing

"Remember the Titans," the fact-inspired 2000 drama starring Denzel Washington as a football coach struggling with racial tensions on his team, is "super motivational," the Texas-born boxer told TODAY.com. In fact, she's lost count of how many times she's watched it; she lets it play "every time it comes on."

NBC, Paramount Pictures

Hurdler Dawn Harper credits Samuel L. Jackson as "Coach Carter" as a model for perseverance.

Dawn Harper, track & field

The silver medalist in the women's 100m hurdles chooses "Coach Carter," the 2005 Samuel L. Jackson drama, based on the true story of a high school basketball coach who benched his undefeated team for their low academic grades, and motivated them to success in the classroom as well as on the court. "It's about the perseverance," Harper told TODAY.com.

Dremiel Byers, wrestling

The Newark, N.J.-born grappler's instant choice was "Vision Quest," a 1985 drama starring Matthew Modine as a high school wrestler searching for meaning in his life. "Come on, I'm a wrestler," he told TODAY.com. But then he thought for a moment and added: "Actually, this is hard for me. I'm stuck between 'Vision Quest' and 'Prefontaine' (the 1997 story of long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, played by Jared Leto). "But I'm a wrestler, so I'd have to say 'Vision Quest.'"

Courtesy of Producers Distribution

Silver medalist Leo Manzano (right) was fascinated by a documentary about Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna (left).

Leo Manzano, track & field

Manzano was fast enough to win the U.S. silver in the men's 1500 meters, so it's natural that he chose a film about speed: "Senna," a critically acclaimed British documentary about Brazilian Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna. "I didn't know anything about F1," Manzano confessed. "Then (I) watched this movie and fell in love with it."

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