The second film about the 1968 Winter Olympics, Snows of Grenoble, is more interesting than Claude Lelouch’s 13 Days in France. Without giving up the need to philosophize, directors Jacques Ertaud and Jean-Jacques Languepin portray and explain many of the events. The emphasis is on Alpine skiing, what with France winning four of the six events. But the narrator does a good job of describing the downhill course with the aid of aerial photography. In addition to the almost obligatory sequence of the skiers and their teams preparing their skis, we see and listen to the skiers practice their descents in their heads. Naturally, we are treated to a series of brutal falls during training runs. In fact, we witness a cameraman and a pilot emerge relatively unscathed from a helicopter crash.
The narrator tells us that because the leading skiers are placed in the first group of fifteen, the fifteenth skier has a chance for the gold medal, but the sixteenth doesn’t. Anyone who followed the 2018 Winter Olympics knows that this is not necessarily the case, as Ester Ledecká won the women’s giant slalom from the 26th starting spot.
When Jean-Claude Killy edges out his French compatriot Guy Périllat to win the men’s downhill, we are told that Périllat “dissolves in speed” whereas Killy “fights it.” Okay.
For figure skating, we are shown the artistry of Peggy Fleming and the repeat pairs champions, the married couple of Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, both of whom perform before a packed house. The film does point out that the compulsory figures stage of figure skating takes place before an almost empty venue, even though it accounts for 60% of the final score.
Cross-country skiing earns a few minutes coverage, with Italian Franco Nones winning the 30-kilometer race to break the Scandinavian domination of the sport. Not mentioned is that Nones trained in Sweden with a Swedish coach. Credit is also given to Finnish-born Swede Toini Gustafsson, who won both individual events and added a silver in the relay. In the film, she is misidentified as being 39 years old. She was 30.
At the end of the men’s 50-kilomtere race, the narrator tells us that “at the finish line, their faces look ten years older.”
Back to Alpine skiing, we learn the story behind the footage taken by a skier with a helmet camera as he follows another skier down the slope. It’s François Bonlieu, the 1964 giant slalom champion, following one of the forerunners before the start of the competition.
There is a section called “Forgotten Sports,” which introduces us to biathlon and luge. “‘Luge champion’ doesn’t sound very serious” says the narrator. Both this film and the one by Claude Lelouch leave out one of the scandals of the Grenoble Games; after placing first, second and fourth in the women’s luge, the three East German athletes were disqualified for illegally heating the runners on their toboggans.
Snows of Grenoble does deal with the other major controversy of the 1968 Winter Olympics. After winning two of three men’s Alpine events, Jean-Claude Killy went for a clean sweep in the slalom. He led after the first round. The second round was held in densely foggy conditions. At first it appeared that Norway’s Håkon Mjøen had beaten Killy, but he had missed two gates. Then came Austria’s star, Karl Schranz. Schranz did not make it to the finish line, claiming that a mysterious figure in black crossed his path, distracting him. He was given a second chance and beat Killy’s time. But then he was disqualified for missing a gate before the alleged interference, and Killy was awarded his third gold medal after all. The film, not surprisingly, takes the French point of view and does not mention the Austrian protests.
Like so many Winter Olympics films, Snows of Grenoble ends with a ski jump montage. The Closing Ceremony is not included.