Considering Bud Greenspan, by Larry Eder

BUDGREENSPAN.JPG
                 photo credit: Frode Neilsen

An era is has ended. The man who should be credited with popularizing the Olympics to the masses, Bud Greenspan, has died. Mr. Greenspan died on Christmas day, December 25, 2010, at the age of 84 of complications from Parkinsons' disease.

Bud Greenspan celebrated the Olympic ideal, but most importantly, the Olympic athlete, both known, and unknown. From Jesse Owens revisiting his 1936 Olympic victories to John Stephen Akwahri's last place Olympic marathoner finisher in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Greenspan understood the power of the Olympic Games. He also comprehended better than most, the power of chronicling the Olympic Games in film.

Greenspan's love and understanding of the power of the Olympic ideal, has given rise to generations of new sports fans, who also celebrate the Olympic ideal. 

 





Since his first Olympic-focused article, written about the 1948 Olympics, Bud Greenspan had a love affair with the largest sports celebration on the planet. But his true contribution was his celebration of the Olympic movement and athletes through his video and film presentations.

Greenspan's love affair with the Olympics dates to 1948 and an Olympic weightlifter. Mr. Greenspan met John Davis, the 1948 Olympic weightlifting gold medalist, who was also an opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Bud wrote an article about him then, and for 1952, produced his first short film, 'The Strongest Man in the World," about Davis defending his gold medal in Helsinki in 1952. In that first film, Bud's brother, David Greenspan, did the voice over for the first time-a job he did on all of Bud's films for four decades.

"Bud had an almost mystical relationship with film," noted James Dunaway, Executive Editor of American Track & Field. "Bud could enter a film vault, and walk up to the right film canister, it was an incredible talent.."

Mr. Greenspan popularized the Olympics with his series of films documenting the Olympic athletes. His first film, done in 1963, had the late and great Jesse Owens visiting Berlin to relive the 1936 Olympics. His series of ten films, titled, "The Olympiad" popularized the Olympics, celebrating athletes that many sports fans had never heard of.

My own personal experience was seeing Abebe Bekele in a Greenspan film ( I own a set of all of Mr. Greenspans videos, and films), with archival footage of Paavo Nurmi, and other greats.

The Olympiad series put Greenspan's work front and center with the IOC, and from 1976 on, Bud did ten official Olympic films about both the Winter and Summer Olympics. The voice of his brother, the thoughtful editing of the film, both archival and new, gave sports fans like myself an appreciation of the Olympics that can not be underestimated.

In a response to an AP request, USOC Scott Blackmun noted that Mr. Greenspan "connected the Olympics with everyday people that the founders of the games could not have imagined."

Greenspan's Olympiad series was a decade long labor of love, including visiting thirty countries and researching over three million feet of archived film
!

Bud Greenspan, was most of all, a story teller. Like Homer's epic poem, the Illiad & the Odyssey, Greenspan's video story telling will live for generations. Greenspan understood how to weave a story,
giving the viewer insights into the focused athletes, allowing us to see just enough of their human frailty, and also suggestions of how, again and again, how humans could take the leap of faith needed to become Olympians. One realized, through Greenspan's work, that Olympic athletes needed talent, lots of hard work, and luck!  

Mr. Greenspan was faulted, in my belief, wrongly, for focusing on the heroism and celebrating the universality of the Olympic experience. In 1988, instead of focusing on Ben Johnson and his misdeeds, Greenspan focused on Calvin Smith, the bronze medalist in the 100 meters. Greenspan once noted, in an ESPN.com interview from a decade ago, that he was perhaps, from a different century. Mr. Greenspan also noted that he was the one percent of the media who focused on the goodness of the Olympics. He let the others focus on the detritus of greed that seems to be part of all modern sports. 

Greenspan's films were like great operas (Bud was an Opera fan). There was always the buildup of the story, the challenge, and the denoument. I particularly remember Daley Thompson in the 1984 film, in trouble with two discus fouls, and getting a fair third throw, going on to win the Olympic gold in the decathlon. Greenspan did love track & field athletes and celebrated their stories often. His stories grabbed the viewer and did not release them until the ends of his film.  

Bud loved the Olympics. He looked at the athletes through his rose colored glasses, and communicated his love of the Olympic symbolism and the athletes from 1948 to 2010. His homage to the 2010 Winter Olympics should be out in upcoming months.

In speaking with James Dunaway yesterday about Mr. Greenspan, I noted how much they saw each other as part of the patina of the Olympics for four decades. James and Bud had been to many of same Summer Olympics (Bud started in 1952, James in 1956). Greenspan was an observer, but most of all, a story teller. And he enjoyed his time in the Olympic stadium. " We would always be cordial, but we were both quite busy during the Summer Games. Bud was kind to everyone and once he met you, he remembered you.."

I met Bud in 1986 when his Sixteen Days of Glory film about the 1984 Olympics came out. After that, Bud would always take a moment and chat. I especially remember him at the 1996 Olympics. It was fun watching him in his world, which he loved. And the athletes loved him.

My favorite Bud Greenspan moments? Well, his coverage of the great ones, including Emil Zatopek. But the moment that stands out as the most Olympian to me, was his coverage of David Moorcroft, and his terrible luck in the 5,000 meter final.

Moorcroft had set the 5,000 meter WR in 1981, and was considered a prime candidate for the Olympic gold. His hips did not cooperate and in the final, he was just not himself. Greenspan followed both Said Aouita's win, and Moorcrofts' last place finish in the final, and both were given the Olympic respect that only Greenspan could do.

How does one celebrate such a life documented? My suggestion is to get in a run or walk, then watch one of Bud's films....

Universal Sports will celebrate Mr. Greenspan with ten nights of Olympic films by Greenspan's team, starting January 1. Please check your local listings.


Alan Abramson wrote a very touching remembrance of Bud, which can be found at www.BudGreenspan.com




 



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