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Friday, August 5, 2016

Olympic Games Always Fascinate

Written by Jon Williams

The eyes of the world will turn to Brazil tonight as the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games take place there. There has already been plenty of talk leading up to this year’s games due to the less than ideal conditions in Rio, but for the next two weeks, the drama will hopefully be confined to the exploits of the athletes and teams as they compete for the gold in a myriad of events.

With all the excitement they generate, it’s no surprise that the Olympic Games are a much-explored subject in popular culture, with tales both true and fictional. On the true side, perhaps the most famous is Chariots of Fire, the 1981 film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, telling the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The iconic, inspirational musical score by Vangelis is nearly as well known as the movie itself. Running is actually one of the most frequent Olympic topics; in the late ‘90s, two different movies (Prefontaine and Without Limits) explore the distance running career and tragically short life of 1972 Olympian Steve Prefontaine.

More recently, the movie Race depicts the struggles Jesse Owens faced in his quest to become a track and field legend, particularly with the 1936 Olympics being held in Germany under the rule of Hitler. Some footage of Owens is on display in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, a groundbreaking documentary of those same Games by a problematic figure. The 1936 Olympics are also the topic of the 2013 bestseller by Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, a rousing story of that year’s U.S. rowing team. Likewise, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (made into a 2014 movie) tells the tale of 1936 Olympian Louis Zamperini and his incredible later exploits during World War II.

As much as the Olympics are about triumph, too often they are also marred by tragedy. One Day in September (currently unavailable) won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Documentary for its look at the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games. The aftermath of that event was portrayed in 2005’s Munich, in which Eric Bana plays a Mossad agent assigned with tracking down the perpetrators. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are reportedly putting together a movie that centers on the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta (a Games that, on the flip side, also provided such uplifting moments as Muhammad Ali lighting the torch and Kerri Strug sticking the landing that won gold for the women’s gymnastics team).

Thankfully, the Olympics have far more often inspired lighter fare. Just released on DVD and Blu-ray, The Bronze follows a former bronze-winning Olympic gymnast as she reluctantly coaches an up-and-coming phenom. Strangely, though, for most Olympics-related comedies, you have to turn to the Winter Games, which has inspired such movies as The Cutting Edge , Blades of Glory, and the mother of them all, Cool Runnings, about the fabled Jamaican bobsled team. And of course, we can’t mention Winter Olympics-related movies without listing Miracle, the story of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that defeated the heavily favored Soviet team en route to an unlikely gold medal.

With the competition getting into full swing first thing tomorrow morning, appetite for all things Games-related is sure to be high. The titles listed here just scratch the surface of all the great Olympics titles available, so be sure to check out the collection on our website for more. You can also point them toward our selections of movies and audiobooks on our digital platform, hoopla digital.

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