For Salt Lake City 2002: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Olympic Glory, Greenspan concentrates on six stories, five gold medal winners and one winner of a bronze medal.
The first story, that of U.S. skeleton slider Jimmy Shea, is irresistible. Shea’s grandfather, Jack Shea, recited the Athletes’ Oath at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics and then won two gold medals in speed skating. Shea’s father, Jim Shea, competed in cross-country skiing and Nordic combined at the 1964 Innsbruck Games. Thus, Jimmy Shea was a third-generation Olympian. His story and that of his family are told by weaving together archival footage, interviews and skeleton action. Seventeen days before the Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympics, Jack Shea, who had planned to watch his grandson compete in person, was killed by a drunken driver. At the Opening Ceremony, Jimmy Shea reads the Athletes’ Oath, just as his grandfather had done 70 years earlier. Then he joins his father and helps carry the Olympic Torch inside the stadium. He goes on to earn the gold medal and reach inside his helmet to extract a photograph of his grandfather. A close-up shows him wearing one of his grandfather’s gold medals when he receives his own at the Medal Ceremony. Not mentioned in the film is that, 12 days after the Games, while speaking at the high school he attended, he appeared to accept illegal underage drinking. This was particularly awkward because his family owned the liquor store on Main Street in Lake Placid.
In another heartwarming story, we meet the Kostelić family from Croatia. With all the stories one hears about parents who push their children in sports, Ante Kostelić comes across as a refreshingly positive influence on his children, daughter Janica and son Ivica. Competing with her brother’s name painted on her fingernails, Janica wins the Alpine combined and goes on to earn two more gold medals and one silver. Ivica also competes at the Salt Lake City Games, placing ninth at the giant slalom and falling on the second run of the slalom despite being the World Cup leader. Unbeknownst at the time of the film, Ivica would earn silver medals at each of the next three Winter Olympics.
Extended coverage of the men’s ice hockey tournament is presented from the point-of-view of Wayne Gretzky, who is chosen as executive director of the Canadian team, and Mario Lemieux, who competes in his first Olympics at the age of 36. Despite losing to Sweden in their opening match and struggling to qualify for the final, the Canadians defeat the United States, and Canada wins the Olympic tournament for the first time in 50 years. Greenspan points out that one-third of Canadians watched the final on television. In fact, it was the most watched TV broadcast in Canadian history—until the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Having already covered Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo in his 1988 film, Greenspan reviews her Olympic history, including having her gold medal from 1992 shatter and having her skis, along with those of the rest of the Italian team, stolen two weeks before the Salt Lake City Games. Belmondo is leading the 15-kilometer race when, with 4½ kilometers to go, her right pole snaps. Using a long-distance shot with Belmondo highlighted, we watch as she panics. A French coach hands her a pole, but it is a man’s pole and too long for her. Then a member of the Italian support team gives her a pole, and, having fallen back to tenth place, she is able to regain the lead and win the race. She later tells Greenspan’s crew that she had been screaming in despair, but “but now my screams were joyous ones.”
Next, we follow the attempts of two female aerials skiers to win Australia’s first Winter Olympics gold medal. When favorite Jacqui Cooper is injured in training at the Salt Lake City Games, Australian attention turns to Alisa Camplin, who had incurred nine concussions during her comparatively brief competitive career. She had told her family not to travel to Salt Lake City, but her mother and sister go anyway without telling her and congratulate her after her victory. She tells them, “What are you doing here? You’re so naughty.”
The final story is that of bobsledder Brian Shimer of the United States, who earns a bronze medal in the four-man event, his first Olympic medal, while competing in his fifth Olympics. In 1992, Shimer had become the first bobsledder to be disqualified for overheating his runners. This incident is briefly touched upon in the film with Shimer implying that such a thing could have occurred.