There are two official films of the 1998 Winter Olympics, both produced and directed by Americans. Nagano ’98 Olympics: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Honor and Glory, is another of Greenspan’s made-for-TV movies, but only two hours long. The limitations in Greenspan’s approach to official films appear in this one. Although he does shows us all the goals in the inaugural women’s ice hockey final, there are some significant aspects of the Nagano Games that are left out. For example, there is no mention of the fact that this was the first time that professionals from the National Hockey League (NHL) could compete in the Olympics, which led to a thrilling final between the Czech Republic and Russia. There is also no mention of snowboarding’s first appearance in the Olympic program or that curling was back after 74 years. Biathlon, which is not included in the film, was affected by Japan’s strict gun laws. The biathletes had to keep their rifles under lock and key and could only retrieve them after submitting to a retina scan.
Greenspan focuses on seven stories. He opens by following the fates of two 31-year-old downhill skiers, both of whom are competing in their fourth Olympics. Jean-Luc Crétier of France had never won a World Cup race. Discouraged, his wife encourages him to give it one more try. Brian Stemmle of Canada almost died after a terrible skiing accident in 1989. At the Nagano Games, Crétier has the run of his life and takes the lead, which holds up through the rest of the 15 seeded skiers. Then Stemmle, in the 20th start position, takes off and betters Crétier’s split times. However, late in the course, he catches a rut, misses a gate and is disqualified. Greenspan shows us the two skiers’ contrasting emotions, which are extreme.
The film follows Bjørn Dæhlie’s attempts to set the record for most gold medals by a Winter Olympics athlete. He is thwarted by fellow Norwegian Thomas Alsgaard, who defeats him in the pursuit event. But in the 4×10-kilometer event, it is Alsgaard who stretches across the finish line ahead of Italy’s Silvio Fauner to give Dæhlie, who skied the third leg, his record gold. Later, the camera follows Dæhlie as he uses all of his body’s energy to win the 50-kilometer race, defeating Niklas Jonsson of Sweden by 8.1 seconds. As Dæhlie lies face down in the snow, unable to stand and barely able to breathe, Jonsson crawls over to him to congratulate him. That’s what the film would have us believe. However, at the medal-winners’ press conference, Jonsson told the media what he really whispered to Dæhlie was “Why didn’t you go nine seconds slower?”
Greenspan also tells the stories of Chinese figure skater Chen Lu, U.S. speed skater Kristin Holum and Italian Alpine champion Deborah Compagnoni, the first Alpine skier to earn gold medals in three Olympics.
However, Greenspan saves his extended coverage for the Japanese ski jumper Masahiko Harada—and for good reason. Using footage from Greenspan’s 1994 film, he reminds us of Harada’s failed final jump in the team event that dropped Japan into second place. At the Nagano Games, he redeems himself in dramatic fashion.
On the whole, Nagano ’98 Olympics: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Honor and Glory is not as compelling as Greenspan’s previous official films. The narrator’s philosophical pronouncements now seem more pretentious than inspiring. And, for the third time (also for the 1984 and 1996 films), the narrator accompanies the extinguishing of the Olympic Flame in the cauldron with the words, “Now, the moment many hoped would never come.”