The official film of the Helsinki Olympics was released in two parts, aimed at the Finnish audience. Part One, Where the World Meets, covers the Opening Ceremony and athletics. Coverage of the Parade of Nations includes some examples of cultural insensitivity. As the Japanese team marches in, we are shown cheering fans … from Korea, which had been occupied by Japanese forces. When the athletes from Pakistan arrive, we are told that they come from the land of “One Thousand and One Nights” even though Pakistan has no connection with this collection of folk tales. And, in a wince-making moment, when the German team marches, we are reminded that they were banned from the last Olympics, but now they have a new flag, although they have the same “military discipline.” This is not the best choice of words considering it was Germany’s military actions that caused them to be uninvited to the 1948 Games.
There are actually two Olympic cauldrons set alight. The first, on the track, is lit by Paavo Nurmi, and another by Hannes Kolehmainen, who lights a cauldron on top of a tower, although this is not shown.
The Finnish love of athletics is obvious in the coverage of events on both the track and on the field. Considering that Finland was shut out of the gold medals, the competitions are graciously described and are accompanied by commentary that refers to the history of some of the athletes and their pre-Olympics accomplishments. The first event shown is the 10,000 meters, the first of Emil Zátopek’s unprecedented triple gold long-distance sweep.
During the coverage of the men’s shot put and discus, we are reminded that Roland Nilsson of Sweden studied in the United States [at the University of Michigan], an early example of foreign athletes benefiting from training in the United States.
The men’s long jump is referred to as “a black contest.” When Adhemar da Silva of Brazil wins the triple jump with a world record, he is asked to take a lap of honor, which the film claims makes him the first field athlete in Olympic history to do so.
The coverage of the 5,000 meters, won by Zátopek, and the 1,500 meters, won by Josy Barthel of Luxembourg, is engrossing, as are the 12 minutes devoted to the marathon. We are told that the marathon is the “most glorious” of events and the winner “the greatest hero.” That winner, Zátopek again, smiles at the camera while running early in the race, before reverting to his famous grimace as the race continues.
There are several mentions of this or that female athlete being attractive, but some of the male athletes get the same admiring treatment.
There are also occasional mentions of an athlete or a nation earning a “point,” as sixth place, from the Finnish point of view, was worth one point and fifth place two.