Greenspan's sharp eye focuses on winter's best



January 17, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Filmmaker and historian Bud Greenspan has been chronicling the Olympics for a half-century, producing six official films for the International Olympic Committee.

He won broadcasting journalism's highest honor, the Peabody Award, in 1995 for his lifetime accomplishments and has seven Emmy awards.

Now, he has a new project: choosing from 20,000 men and women the top 25 Winter Olympians of all time and then winnowing the list to 10 who will be announced during the Games next month as part of a General Motors promotion.

In a teleconference with reporters, Greenspan said he chose athletes who have been inspirational in and out of sports. The list may surprise some, because still-active athletes such as Picabo Street weren't included.

"One of the things that has impressed me with this project is the reaction of the 25 finalists. ... They were almost like kids: `Me? You mean me?' " he said.

In some cases, locating film of the athletes meant a painstaking search of friends and relatives and continuing to look even after sources dried up.

One of the rarest clips is of a pre-teen Sonja Henie of Norway skating in her first Olympics in 1924 and finishing last. Greenspan likened it to "finding the Rosetta Stone."

"It's affected, but there you see that smile that she had throughout her whole movie career and Olympic career," he said of the three-time gold medalist. "She's 11 years old, and we had her falling down on the ice, which was one of the few times she ever fell."

At 75, Greenspan said he still has several more documentaries in him, including these Winter Games, the Summer Games in Athens two years from now and in 2006 the Winter Games in Turino, Italy.

"I'll retire when I die," he said.

Greenspan's top 25 is actually 26, because one selection is a figure-skating couple.

The top 25: Myriam Bedard, Canada, biathlon; Bonnie Blair, United States, speed skating; Dick Button, United States, figure skating; Lee-Kyung Chun, Republic of Korea, short-track speed skating; Deborah Compagnoni, Italy, Alpine skiing; Bjorn Daehlie, Norway, cross country skiing; Peggy Fleming, United States, figure skating; Gillis Grafstrom, Sweden, figure skating; Eric Heiden, United States, speed skating; Sonja Henie, Norway, figure skating; Dan Jansen, United States, speed skating; Jean-Claude Killy, France, Alpine skiing; Johann Olav Koss, Norway, speed skating; Andrea Mead Lawrence, United States, Alpine skiing; Eugenio Monti, Italy, bobsled; Irina Rodnina, Russia, figure skating; Birger Ruud, Norway, ski jumping; Toni Sailer, Austria, Alpine skiing; Vreni Schneider, Switzerland, Alpine skiing; Lydia Skoblikova, Russia, speed skating; Alberto Tomba, Italy, Alpine skiing; Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Great Britain, pairs figure skating; Vladislav Tretiak, Russia, ice hockey; Ulrich Wehling, Germany, Nordic combined, and Katarina Witt, Germany, figure skating.

Flowers cut

What were those yellow things being flung to the ice during last weekend's U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles?

A) Eggs from Big Bird

B) Dick Button's ego

C) Foam pillows carrying the logo of an automobile manufacturer and Olympic sponsor.

Event organizers at Staples Center banned the traditional pelting of the ice with flowers, saying staples (the office product) holding the cellophane around bouquets might damage the ice, causing a skater to fall.

"It's kind of sad," said Sarah Hughes, who finished third in the competition.

To show they meant business, security guards confiscated flowers and teddy bears at the doors. Teddy bears, apparently, have those sharp plastic eyeballs.

The flower ban will not apply at the Olympics, a relief to Hallmark, another official sponsor and flower supplier to the Games.

Fire within

Hell hath no fury like a bobsled woman scorned.

Jen Davidson, who was discarded by her four-year partner, Jean Racine, just days before the U.S. Olympic trials in Park City, Utah, has filed a grievance with the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

The two women were best buddies with cutesy nicknames and big endorsement deals. They won two world championships and earned 21 World Cup medals.

But when they started slipping this season, J-Ra used her prerogative as sled driver and ditched J-Da, replacing her with a former hepthathlete who was coming off a four-year suspension for anabolic steroids.

Racine and new partner Gea Johnson took first place and set a course speed record. Davidson, watching from the stands, took a fit.

Now, she wants a race-off with Johnson, and is threatening legal action if she doesn't get one.

"It's an attempt to follow my Olympic dream," Davidson said.

The team must be set by Jan. 28.

Thin ice

Not to be outdone in the protest department, short-track speed skater Ron Biondo joined teammate Tommy O'Hare in calling their sport fixed.

O'Hare has filed a grievance with U.S. Speedskating, asking that he be named to the team and that skating sensation Apolo Ohno and the team's second-best skater, Rusty Smith, be removed.

O'Hare alleges that during the 1,000-meter final at the Olympic team trials, Ohno dogged it to allow his close friend, Shani Davis, to win and make them team. Biondo claims Ohno prevented Smith from moving up in the pack.

The Davis-Smith-Ohno finish kept O'Hare from making the team and Biondo from earning an individual spot rather than a relay spot.

The grievance will be heard next week.

Hackl shackled

Three-time Olympic champion Georg Hackl is human, after all. The German luger, who hopes to become the first Winter Games athlete to win four consecutive gold medals, lost to Austria's Markus Prock for the singles luge title in the European championships in Altenberg, Germany.

Prock, twice runner-up to Hackl at the Olympics, set a track record of 54.610 seconds on his first run. Hackl finished fourth.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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