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August 16, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "Bud Greenspan's Favorite Stories of Olympic Glory"

Where: Showtime

When: Sunday, 10 p.m.

Since 1952, Bud Greenspan has written, produced and directed more than 150 films on Olympic athletes and their achievements. He was asked by Showtime to pick his five favorite stories among thousands for a 90-minute documentary.

The result is another Greenspan winner. The athletes who made the final cut:

* Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who scored the sport's first perfect 10 at the 1976 Montreal Games.

* Australian swimmer Duncan Armstrong, who scored a huge upset in the men's 200-meter freestyle in 1988 at Seoul.

* Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome in his bare feet and won again in Tokyo in 1964.

* Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin, who finished off an undefeated career by winning in 1996 at Atlanta.

* Decathlete Dan O'Brien, who won at Atlanta after failing to make the U.S. team in 1992.

The story of Comaneci, who was 14 in 1976, is well known. So is the story of her coach, Bela Karolyi. But their stories are worth telling again, and Greenspan tells them well.

One reason Greenspan picked Armstrong was because of his flamboyant coach, Laurie Lawrence. Another reason was that Armstrong was ranked 46th in the world in the 200 freestyle when he upset Matt Biondi and two other world record holders while setting a world record himself.

The Bikila segment may be the most fascinating of the five and certainly the most tragic. Bikila was confined to a wheelchair after a car accident in 1969 and, after taking up archery for a while, died four years later at 41. An interesting sidelight in this piece is that the third-place finisher in the Tokyo marathon, Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan, tore an Achilles' tendon in 1967, struggled in training and committed suicide nine months before the 1968 Games.

Greco-Roman wrestling is a sport few pay attention to outside the Olympics, but Karelin's dominance and his victory over American Matt Ghaffari in the final at Atlanta make this a worthwhile story.

The O'Brien story is one viewers will be more familiar with. O'Brien passed at four heights in the pole vault while trying to make the 1992 decathlon team, but this tidbit is glossed over. The film only shows O'Brien failing to clear 15 feet 9 inches. There is no mention of the opening height being 14-5. At the time, O'Brien was severely criticized for not attempting to clear a lower height. It cost him a spot on the team and possibly a gold medal. But O'Brien came back to win in 1996, and that is the focus of the segment.

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