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Monday, February 11, 2002
Updated: February 12, 3:45 PM ET
Bud Greenspan

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Bud Greenspan is as much a part of the Olympics as the rings, the torch and Juan Antonio Samaranch's slush fund. He's been filming award-winning documentaries of the Olympics for decades, always capturing the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the simple satisfaction of participation. Finding yourself the focus of a Greenspan film is as much an honor as finding yourself on the medal platform.

Bud Greenspan
The Olympic fire still burns within Bud Greenspan.
With the Olympics in full swing in Salt Lake, Page 2's Jim Caple caught up with Greenspan, who talked about his love for the Games, his admiration for Jesse Owens and his fondness for the movie "Happy Gilmore" (well, not really -- we're just making that last part up).

1. How many Olympics have you been to now?

Bud Greenspan: "It seems like every one since 1896. But this is about 15 or 16. When I finish a film I always say that's the last one, but I get Olympic fever about three months before every Olympics starts and get very excited again."

2. What's your favorite Olympic moment?

Greenspan: "Mexico City, 1968. A young Tanzanian runner, John Stephen Ahkwari, was the last runner in the marathon. He came in about an hour and a half after the winner. He was practically carrying his leg, it was so bloodied and bandaged. I asked him, 'Why did you keep going?' 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."

Frank Shorter
Frank Shorter was part of the funniest Olympic moment that Greenspan remembers.
3. With all the corporate hype and scandals, do you enjoy the Olympics as much as you did before?

Greenspan: "Yes, I do. They're two weeks of love. It's Like Never Never Land. Like Robin Hood shooting his arrow through the other guy's arrow. It's a privilege to be associated with the best in the world. How many times are you with the best in the world in something? They bring things forward that they don't ordinarily do.

"I spend my time on about the 99 percent of what's good about the Olympics and most people spend 100 percent of their time on the one percent that's negative. I've been criticized for seeing things through rose-colored glasses, but the percentages are with me."

4. What's the funniest moment you remember from the Olympics?

Al Oerter
U.S. discus legend Al Oerter is one of Greenspan's favorites.
Greenspan: "When Frank Shorter came into the stadium in Munich in second place and a spectator had run into the stadium ahead of him and nobody at ABC knew what was going on. They kept asking, 'Who is that guy?' The same thing happened in 1984 in the steeplechase. Henry Marsh always liked coming from behind, so he was at the end, and then a guy came out of the stands and ran behind him, and then the police started to chase the guy. You had these Olympic runners trying to win a medal and they're being followed by a fat guy in a running suit and then the police are running after him and chasing him through the stands."

5. Which superpower would you rather have, the strength of 100 men, the ability to fly or ability to turn invisible?

Greenspan: "I think I would like to be invisible. I would like to be able to hear what people are saying about things. I always wanted to be a fly on a wall."

But with the strength of 100 men, you could win gold medals instead of just reporting on those who do.

Greenspan: "Yeah, but it's a subjective question."

Fanny Blankers-Koen
Fanny Blankers-Koen, right, won four gold medals in 1948.
6. What is your goal with your films?

Greenspan: "When my wife was alive, we had many talks as to why we were here. We were without children, and we decided our films were our kids, that they would be good films and they wouldn't talk back and cause us trouble and they may live for 100 to 150 years. There is some form of immortality in that. I once asked if there was a Rembrandt and a Beethoven, why can't there be a Greenspan? I meant it. I want the films to last."

7. Which four Olympians would you invite to dinner?

Greenspan: "Jesse Owens, Al Oerter, Fanny Blankers-Koen, the Dutch woman who won four gold medals in 1948, and Roger Bannister, who came in fourth in 1952 but broke the four-minute mile later and is a classy guy. I know them all very well and would like to spend time with them."

US Hockey 80
The U.S. hockey team celebrates after clinching the gold medal in 1980.
8. What Olympic event were you not at that you would most want to see?

Greenspan: "I was at the hockey game in 1980 when the U.S. beat the Soviets, and I was at the basketball game in 1972 when the Soviets beat the U.S. I missed one thing in 1984 when the American women's team won, and there was a pair of twins. One made the team and one didn't. And when the U.S. won, the twin that won placed the gold medal on the other.

"And I'm just upset that I wasn't there to see Jesse Owens run in person. I took him back to Berlin to make my first film, called 'Jesse Owens Returns,' and I took him to the center of the infield there and asked him what it's like being there in the middle of the stadium, waiting for the gun to go off. He said, 'It's when a lifetime of training becomes 10 seconds.' And those became the words we lived by.

Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens inspired Greenspan with his deeds and words.
"We concentrate on the medals too much. Somebody is the fourth best in the world of 4 billion people and nobody pays attention. In the luge one year, the difference between first and eighth place was 43 thousandths of a second. Forty-three thousandths. How do you measure that?"

I almost think they should get rid of the clocks that can measure that precisely.

Greenspan: "I'd like to get rid of calendars, too, so we would never know how old we are and never stop doing things. My dog was the smartest creature in world, jumping around like a puppy until the last day he was alive, because he didn't know how old he was."

9. Which Olympic athletes do you most admire?

Greenspan: "Emil Zatopec of Czechoslovakia. In 1952, he won three gold medals. He won the 5,000, the 10,000 and because he had nothing to do for a week, he ran the marathon to keep in shape and won it, too. And Wilma Rudolph. She couldn't run, she couldn't even walk without special shoes, and then eight years later she wins gold medals in the Olympics. And Eric Heiden was from another world. You have sprinters and long-distance people and they don't win both. But he did. It's like Owens winning the 100 and the marathon. It can't happen."

Roger Bannister
Sir Roger Bannister, in 1994, holds a picture of himself running the first 4-minute mile in 1954.
10. What's your favorite sports film?

Greenspan: "Besides my own?"

Yes.

Greenspan: "My favorite movie is Leni Reifenstahl's 'Olympiad.' And I liked 'Brian's Song.' And even with its misinformation, 'Chariots of Fire' is something. The music made that movie before it even came out. Every time I get depressed, I listen to it."