Just like the 2002 official film, Bud Greenspan’s Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory tells the stories of five gold medal winners and one winner of a bronze medal. This time, it is the bronze story that is the most moving. Pyrros Dimas was born in Albania. A member of the Greek minority, he fled to Greece in 1991 and was immediately given Greek citizenship. The following year, he earned a gold medal in light-heavyweight weightlifting at the Barcelona Olympics. Because hurdler Voula Patoulidou also became an Olympic champion, it was the first time since 1896 that two Greek athletes won gold medals at the same Olympics. Greenspan shows us the heroes’ welcome the two receive upon their return to Greece, including a special ceremony for them held at the Panathenaic Stadium that was used for the 1896 Olympics. Dimas won again in 1996 and 2000. By the time of the 2004 Games, Dimas, plagued by injuries, is past his prime, but he wants to compete in Athens. He tries to win the gold medal, but he is unable to hold a clean and jerk weight that would have been easy for him four years earlier. Still, he places third. At the Medal Ceremony, when the bronze medal is placed around his neck, the Greek spectators give him a ten-minute standing ovation. Visibly deeply moved, Dimas later says, “I left with two medals that day: one the bronze which was given to me by the officials, and a gold which was given to me by the people—with their love.”
We also meet Polish swimmer Otylia Jędrzejczak, who wins the 200-meter butterfly and then auctions off her gold medal and gives the proceeds to a children’s hospital for leukemia victims. Also profiled are fencer Mariel Zagunis, who wins the inaugural women’s sabre event to become the first U.S. fencing champion in 100 years; softball pitcher (and hitter) Lisa Fernandez, who leads the United States to its third consecutive set of gold medals; and 20-year-old Australian cyclist Anna Meares, who wins the 500-meter time trial in world record time after her older sister, Kerrie, withdraws from contention for the Olympics because of a bad back injury. The segment about Fernandez does go into the fall and rise of the U.S. softball team in in 2000, which was left out of the Sydney film.
More dramatic is the profile of Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, who had dominated the 1,500 meters for eight years, but had never won an Olympic final, having fallen in 1996 and placed second in 2000. As narrator Will Lyman tells us, in 2004, if he loses in Athens, El Guerrouj would become one of the greatest runners to never earn an Olympic gold medal. But he does win the 1,500 and then gains a second gold medal in the 5,000 to become the first runner to win both races since Paavo Nurmi 80 years earlier.
The limitations of Greenspan’s approach are again evident in this film, which does not explain the use of important historical venues. The women’s and men’s shot put events were held in Olympia, site of the Ancient Olympics. The marathon route followed the one used at the first Modern Olympics in 1896, and the original Panathenaic Stadium from 1896 was used as the venue for the 2004 archery events.