Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan dies

Bud Greenspan's best-known documentaries focused on the jubilant triumphs and crestfallen defeats of Olympic athletes.
Bud Greenspan's best-known documentaries focused on the jubilant triumphs and crestfallen defeats of Olympic athletes. (Wttg/chicago)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 7:32 PM

Bud Greenspan, 84, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker whose best-known documentaries focused on the jubilant triumphs and crushing defeats of Olympic athletes, died Dec. 25 at his home in New York.

He had Parkinson's disease, his longtime companion, Nancy Beffa, said.

In a career spanning five decades and scores of films, Mr. Greenspan won eight Emmy Awards, including a lifetime achievement sports Emmy in 2006.

In 1996, Mr. Greenspan received the George Foster Peabody Award for creating "his own genre of sports documentary" filming the Olympic Games.

Mr. Greenspan made 10 official films for the International Olympic Committee, including the 1986 documentary "16 Days of Glory," about the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

A Washington Post reviewer called it "the single-most inspiring sports film ever created. It's more about people than sports, and the viewer can't help but share in the joy, hope, fears and tears of victory and defeat."

Mr. Greenspan rose to prominence in 1976 with a 22-part documentary called "The Olympiad," which aired on PBS, and later on ESPN, ABC and in 80 countries around the world. The epic project, which took several years to complete, relied heavily on Mr. Greenspan's eye for an emotional storyline.

The series featured the Emmy-winning 1968 documentary "Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin." The film centered on the African American athlete's journey back to the capital of Nazi Germany more than 30 years after he won four gold medals there.

Mr. Greenspan's productions did not always feature champions. He said he often found his best material by portraying the also-rans and not-quites.

Among the athletes Mr. Greenspan chronicled was John Stephen Akhwari, who finished last in the 1968 Olympic marathon in Mexico City. The Tanzanian runner had injured his leg but continued running despite his bandaged and bloodied knee, crossing the finish line an hour after the winner.

"I asked him, 'Why did you keep going?' " Mr. Greenspan told ESPN in an interview. "He said, 'You don't understand. My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start a race, they sent me to finish it.' That sent chills down my spine and I've always remembered it."

Some film critics noted that Mr. Greenspan's productions rarely mentioned any scandal, such as steroid-popping athletes or officiating troubles at the Olympic Games.

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