Once upon a time, in the 1990s, FTP producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., swam for the University of Notre Dame, competing also, a couple of times on the international level.
This left him with a lifelong love of the Olympics.
Originally hailing from the frozen tundra of the Midwest, he reflects on his favorite Winter Games films (as he did here for the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo).
Exhibits A, B and C of why I believe the 1980s was the greatest decade ever.
The professionalizing of the Olympics, permitted for the 1988 games, really didn’t take hold until the 1992 Dream Team showcased the NBA’s best.
In the 80s, underdog amateurs often worked second jobs or scrambled for funding in hopes of fulfilling their Olympic dreams.
Miracle (2004) tells the United States’ mammoth upset of the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Lake Placid games. A patched-together team of collegians led by head coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) defeated what was, for all intents and purposes, a group of professional Russians.
Cool Runnings (1993) loosely recounts the debut of the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
A head coach, simply named Irv (the late John Candy) leads the four-man bobsled team in their first competition in an event typically dominated by Europeans.
The film's message of how one plays the game mattering more than winning at all costs resonates through many aspects of life.
Eddie the Eagle (2015) Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) takes advantage of a loophole in Olympic qualifying and attempts to represent Great Britain in ski jumping at the Calgary games.
He does not harbor any delusions for a medal, hoping only to compete well … and not seriously maim himself in the process.
Honorable mention: The Cutting Edge (1992) A rare tale of an Olympic overdog. Well-off skater Kate Moseley (Moira Kelly), fresh off disappointment in 1988, tries once more for Olympic glory in Albertville ’92, partnered in pairs figure skating with washed-up hockey player (D.B. Sweeney).
Best Oscar-nominated film
I, Tonya (2017)
I consider the Tonya Harding biopic, starring Margot Robbie in the lead role, the female version of Raging Bull.
It's a superbly made film that executed what it was trying to be about, even if I don’t personally agree with what it is about.
A brash, vulgar outsider, Harding hardly represented the Olympic spirit nor the ice-skating community. Her underdog story of a working-class upbringing and training at an indoor shopping mall rink might typically draw your rooting sympathies, if not for her off-putting behavior.
Even so, it’s difficult not to look away from this antihero, as was the case in the figure-skating finals of the 1994 Lillehammer Games, one of the most-watched television events in U.S. history that wasn’t a Super Bowl.
Honorable mention to as film that should have been nominated:
Downhill Racer (1969), starring Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and Camilla Sparv (with Sylvester Stallone making his film debut in one scene as an extra).
Directed by Michael Ritchie, it follows a skier (Redford) who joins the U.S. team to compete in Europe.
Redford went on to transform the ski town of Park City, Utah, with his Sundance Film Festival.
13 Days in France (1968)
One of the lesser-known requirements of hosting the Olympic Games is the country’s obligation to document the event. Prior to the widespread broadcast of the competitions, world-class directors recorded the proceedings.
Oscar-winner Claude Lelouch captured the best Winter Olympics version for 1968 Games in Grenoble, France. The cinéma vérité style he employs is quintessentially French, and of the time.
Following Alpine skiing great, Jean-Claude Killy while mostly ignoring other sports also reflected the director’s auteur imprint. The documentary’s cultural style would contrast with one-size-fits all Bud Greenspan documentaries that would follow.
Honorable mention: Icarus (2017), a documentary in which filmmaker Bryan Fogel investigates illegal doping in sports and winds up stumbling across a major doping scandal involving the Russian national team and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Best Hybrid Film
Olympic Dreams (2019)
Between the Stockholm Games of 1912 and the second London Olympics of 1948, the IOC awarded medals in the artistic categories of painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music.
Recent Olympic Games resurrected and restructured this tradition by appointing several artists-in-residence.
In the last Winter Olympics. set in Pyeongchang, South Korea, retired Summer Olympian Alexi Pappas used her two-plus weeks in the Olympic Village to direct a subtle romantic comedy amidst the backdrop of the actual games unfolding.
The result is a fictional narrative and documentary blend that reminded me of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
Image: Adobe Stock
Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.