Though he often joked that he'd been around the Olympics since the days of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Bud Greenspan kindled his love affair with the Games in 1948, when, as a 21-year-old radio sports director, he filed dispatches on the competition for WHN in New York City. Four years later he shot a short film at the Helsinki Games about U.S. weightlifting gold medalist John Davis. Though Greenspan was not the Games' first documentarian, his work on the Olympics over a seven-decade career cemented his legacy as Bard of the Rings. The International Olympic Committee, which in 1985 awarded him the Olympic Order, commissioned him to make its official film 10 times, and when he died on Christmas Day, at age 84 from complications of Parkinson's disease, Greenspan was working on a documentary about the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. (It will be released early in 2011.)
Cutting a familiar figure with his eyeglasses perched atop his bald head, Greenspan cherished stories of athletic perseverance, particularly those that involved the also-rans. "People don't pay enough attention to those who come in fourth, seventh or 10th," Greenspan once told the Los Angeles Times. He embraced storytelling above all, and his camera lingered on his subjects. For his highly acclaimed 16 Days of Glory, documenting the 1984 L.A. Games, he employed 18 crews and shot nearly a million feet of film.
Greenspan's style can seem quaint in contrast to edgier sports documentaries such as Hoop Dreams or those in ESPN's 30 for 30 series. Greenspan steered away from tales of officiating controversies and drug scandals. Yet, in its passion and focus, his work matched the timeless attraction of its subject perfectly. "The Olympics never change, just the names of people change," he said. "The greatness of these performances is consistent."