If the Americans failed to produce official films during their previous experiences hosting the Olympics, they made up for it in 1984. Bud Greenspan, who would go on to produce and direct ten official Olympic films, presents the Los Angeles Games in 16 Days of Glory, which lasts 4 hours and 44 minutes. Greenspan’s first Olympics-related documentary was a 1953 15-minute short, The Strongest Man in the World, about U.S. weightlifter John Davis. By the time of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, Greenspan had already established himself as the leading producer of films about the Olympics, most notably as a result of his 22-hour series of films, released in 1976, entitled The Olympiad. Greenspan’s brother, David, who used the stage name David Perry, became known as the voice of the Olympics. He narrated the 1984 Sarajevo film and 16 Days of Glory.
16 Days of Glory, as with most official films, begins with the Opening Ceremony. The narration mentions the Soviet bloc’s revenge boycott. When the Olympic flag is carried into the stadium by famous U.S. Olympians, the narrator calls attention to one of the athletes following the flag, boxer Richard Sandoval, who had qualified for the 1980 Olympics, but was not allowed to compete because of the U.S. boycott. Although it is not noted in the film, when the U.S. team enters, they do not do so in step. This was a break with tradition, although it would soon be almost universally adopted by other countries.
Greenspan’s specialty was storytelling. Although 16 Days of Glory includes footage of various events and montages of different sports, at its heart are 18 stories, most of which highlight one or two athletes, including interviews with the athletes conducted after they have returned home. Greenspan makes his point that the Olympics isn’t just about medal winners by using his first story segment to relate the travails of Great Britain’s Dave Moorcroft, who held the world record at 5,000 meters. Although he had been one of the favorites, in Los Angeles he was hampered by a pelvic injury. He qualifies for the final, but it immediately becomes clear that he is in pain. Rather than drop out, he is determined to finish, and we watch his struggle to avoid being lapped by the winner, Saïd Aouita. Moorcroft succeeds, barely.
Greenspan humanizes several of the athletes by focusing on their spouses and other family members as they watch from the stands. For example, Linda Moorcroft, Dave’s wife, describes the agony of watching her husband struggle through the race. Sometimes this technique backfires in the long run because the couples divorce within a few years of the husband’s Olympic triumph. Such was the case of Bruce and Chrystie Jenner, who were featured in the 1976 Montréal official film. And such is the case in 16 Days of Glory, in the segment about U.S. hurdler Edwin Moses. His wife, Myrella, seated between IAAF president Primo Nebiolo and IAAF general secretary John Holt, suffers though the final while Holt and Nebiolo reassure her that Moses is running well. After he wins the final, Moses embraces Myrella and then jogs over to and shakes hands with…Bud Greenspan. Edwin and Myrella divorced eight years later.
Half of Greenspan’s interview subjects are Americans, but some of the most compelling segments deal with non-U.S. athletes. Of particular interest is his coverage of the decathlon duel between defending Olympic champion Daley Thompson of Great Britain and world record holder Jürgen Hingsen of West Germany. As is often the case, Greenspan and Perry do an excellent job of explaining how events work, including strategy that would not otherwise be clear to a general viewer.
Coverage of Carl Lewis’s quest to match Jesse Owens’ 1936 feat of winning gold medals in the 100 meters, long jump, 200 meters and the 4×100-meter relay is intercut with footage of Owens’ victories.
The famous clash between American Mary Decker and Zola Budd, representing Great Britain, in the women’s 3,000 meters is shown in slow-motion detail, but the race is primarily described from the point-of-view of the winner, Maricica Puică of Romania, and her husband/coach Ion.
Greenspan does an excellent job of using slow-motion replays to deal with a controversy in the men’s 100-meter freestyle. American Rowdy Gaines is first in the water and then beats Mark Stockwell of Australia by less than half a second. Stockwell is furious, and the Australians file a protest, claiming that Gaines jumped the gun. However, as Greenspan shows, Gaines did not jump the gun, but rather, starter Frank Silvestri fired the gun before Stockwell was in a set position.
Other segments deal with Olympic champions Yasuhiro Yamashita, Michael Gross, Mary Lou Retton, Joan Benoit (although she did not submit to an interview), Pierre Quinon, Sebastien Coe, Nawal El Moutawakel, Greg Louganis, Peter Vidmar, Ulrike Meyfarth and Connie Carpenter-Phinney. However, we also follow the journeys of U.S. steeplechaser Henry Marsh, who places fourth and is then carried away on a stretcher, and Briton Steve Ovett, who is hospitalized with a respiratory problem after the 800 meters and then starts the final of the 1,500 meters, but has to stop running and, like Marsh, exits on a stretcher.
In one odd editorial choice, whenever a non-English-speaking athlete is interviewed, his or her answers are dubbed into English by a narrator with the accent, often heavy, of the interviewee’s nation.
The film concludes with a montage of athletes waving to the spectators while Placido Domingo sings in the background.