Bud Greenspan’s Olympic films were characterized by four goals: 1) tell good stories; 2) emphasize the best of the Olympic Movement, its message of peace and friendship; 3) remind viewers that it is possible for athletes (and others) to overcome adversity; and 4) emphasize that, in the words of Pierre de Coubertin, “The important thing in these Olympics is less to win than to take part.” While remaining true to the first three ideals, Bud Greenspan’s Torino 2006: Stories of Olympic Glory gives up on number four by concentrating only on gold medal winners—five of them.
As in his Athens film, Greenspan makes good use of split screens. In his coverage of the Opening Ceremony, he includes Luciano Pavarotti, in his last public appearance, performing “Nessun Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s last opera, “Turandot.”
The first story is that of U.S. speed skater Joey Cheek, who wins the 500 meters race and places second at 1,000 meters. Inspired by Johann Olav Koss, he donates his prize money ($40,000) to Right to Play, the philanthropic organization Koss founded in 2000. We see him in Chad, playing with child refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. (Just before the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government revoked Cheek’s visa because of his criticism of its support for the Sudanese dictatorship.)
Other segments deal with Japanese figure skater Shizuka Arakawa and Norwegian Alpine skier Kjetil André Aamodt, emphasizing their struggles with injury and self-doubt.
Not surprisingly, the most attention is given to two Italian Olympians: speed skater Enrico Fabris and cross-country skier Giorgio Di Centa. Fabris talks about competing in a sport for which Italians have little interest. In Italy, 300 people belonged to speed skating clubs, whereas in the Netherlands, there were 170,000 speed skating club members. Fabris becomes an overnight sensation when he earns Italy’s first-ever speed skating medal and then adds two gold medals.
Di Centa talks about his father, who besides teaching skiing, spent 40 years as a baker. “As a family,” Giorgio explains, “there was always lots of cross-country skiing—and always plenty of bread.” Greenspan reviews the rivalry between Italy and Norway in the 4×10-kilometer relay, with the last three Olympic gold medals decided by a combined total of less than one second. In 2006, Di Centa skis the second leg and Italy gains a clear victory over Germany. For the first time, the 50-kilometer marathon is contested with a mass start. Di Centa saves his strength for the final sprint and overtakes Yevgeny Dementyev of Russia to win by less than a second, at the time the event’s closest-ever finish. At the Closing Ceremony, Di Centa is presented the gold medal by an IOC member—his sister Manuela Di Centa, herself an Olympic champion, who earned five medals at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
One notable aspect of Bud Greenspan’s Torino 2006: Stories of Olympic Glory is watching the eventual gold medal winners as they watch their rivals perform after they themselves have finished competing. In the first race of the 500 meters, Joey Cheek has to wait for two more pairs to race before he knows that he leads after the first of two rounds. Shizuka Arakawa sits backstage with her support team intently following Irina Slutskaya’s free skate on a monitor until they learn that Arakawa has gained the gold medal. And Kjetil André Aamodt waits at the bottom of the hill during the Super G competition until Hermann Maier crosses the finish line thirteen hundredths of a second slower than Aamodt, before he is sure that he has won his fourth career gold medal.