Greenspan and his team have acknowledged that the athletes spotlighted here prove fodder for barroom arguments among sports fans. They have chosen wisely, though, focusing not only on the well-known but also the great achievements of the little known. All the stories are compelling.
TX:Filmed by Cappy Prods. and Turner Original Prods. Executive producers, Nancy Beffa, Pat Mitchell; producer, director, writer, Bud Greenspan; Take Betty Robinson, the first woman to win a gold medal in track and field in 1928 — the firstyear women were allowed to compete in track events. She survived a near-fatal plane crash in the early ’30s and came back to win a gold in the 1936 Berlin Games.
Or Jeff Farrell, a swimmer who was struck down with appendicitis a month before the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He subsequently made the U.S. team and swam the anchor on two relays. He won two golds.
It is easy to see why Greg Louganis was chosen as “America’s Greatest.” A physically beautiful athlete, Louganis, after bashing his head one day on a diving board, came back the next day and won the 1988 gold medal in the springboard — an event that still stands in America’s collective consciousness.
The doc makes a special point, subtly, of chastising the International Olympic Committee — never on the cutting edge of social reform — for its slowness to institute women’s events: The first women’s marathon was only run in 1984. (American Joan Benoit took the gold.)
“America’s Greatest Olympians” also illustrates how radically sports have changed, particularly the impact of black athletes starting with the ’36 Games, when Jesse Owens showed up Hitler. Women, too, have shown their toughness, both mentally and physically; perhaps Mary Lou Retton and the adolescent girl gymnasts are the best illustration.
Most of all, “Greatest Olympians” portrays the spirit of the Olympic Games — cliched though that might be, the athletes themselves talk of the Games tearing down political barriers and the pure joy of competition.
The filmmakers have done an outstanding job of wading through thousands of feet of film, and finding footage that perfectly illustrates and enhances the text and stories — a Herculean task. Tech credits are tops.