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Movies of the Month: 2004

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June 2004:

Order at RunNatashaRun.com

Run Natasha Run
The first 42 kilometers are the hardest

Patience, perseverance, determination. These are the traits that Natasha, a 29-year-old journalist from Athens, exudes as she tries to reach her goal of completing her first marathon event. Captured in a diary format presentation over a year and a half you will see her struggle to overcome injury, keep motivated by volunteering at a variety of races, and change training programs as she seeks to fulfill her ambitions. This documentary premiered at the Thessaloniki Documentary film festival on March 19, 2004 and this is the third film by Angelike Contis (read interview) who operated as director, writer, and editor of her own camera work.

The quick beats that are carried in the riffs by musician Jez Bentley are immediately introduced and set a tone that is awaited and welcomed as this true story unfolds. Brief comments from amateur runners, coaches, and ultramarathon champion Yiannis Kouros, share various perspectives on what it takes to complete a running goal, both physically and mentally. The Athens Classic Marathon race, which finishes in the Athens marble stadium, is returned to twice as Natasha runs the 10k to check her fitness level. As Natasha struggles for the right training program she decides to change to Hal Higdon’s 18 week marathon program and sticks with it until she is able to reach her own race day with over 30,000 other runners in the 29th Berlin Marathon. The women’s winner, Naoko Takahashi of Japan, (she was also the gold medalist in the Sydney Olympic games) is interviewed following the race.

Quotes from Natasha:
  • "I’m preparing to run the marathon that will be held this November on the original marathon route. I wanted to change certain things about my life that I don’t like. I wanted to be healthier and take better care of myself. When I run, my body feels free. It rids my mind of any concerns. You can see within yourself when you run. There’s also that great feeling that you sometimes get while running. In English it’s called "runner’s high". I'm not sure what they call it in Greek. You get in a state where you are totally alive and...happy. You feel like your entire body is a well oiled machine that won’t let you down."
  • "I often run when I have things on my mind. It makes me forget everything. Running makes you feel better so not being able to run all this time affected me negatively."
  • "It’s like I’m ready to go to war now. That’s how I feel."
  • "Time is something that can stress you out. I won’t be using a stopwatch anymore at most of my practices. I think runners should listen to their body instead and let it determine their speed. I’ll pay attention to my times when the appropriate moment arrives."
  • "I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I’m very afraid. I had been very cool about it, thinking, "Great! I’m finally done training." I was happy because I’d finished the tough practices but I forgot what the training was for– this race."
  • "I proved something to myself, if I set a goal I can achieve it. I learned I can do it no matter what everyone else says, or even if they try to stop me. If I want something, I can achieve it. That’s what it was all about."
If you want to motivate yourself to try to run your first marathon, or see a riveting story of marathon success, than you will be pleased while watching this documentary. To order a VHS or DVD (NTSC or PAL format) visit the "Contact" page at the film’s official website, Run Natasha Run.com. It is great to see a handful of talented people produce a quality production through the lens of a mini-DV and I hope productions like these continue to be brought forward for the public to view. Just as Natasha cheers for others during their races, I cheer for her and this movie with a resounding "Bravo, Bravo!"

Postscript: Natasha is still pursuing her running goals and continues to use Hal Higdon's marathon training program. In 2003 she returned to Berlin for her second marathon and then went to Rotterdam in 2004 where she was unable to complete the race due to a knee injury. Her recovery has gone well and her next marathon is set to take place in Turku, Finland in July 2004.


Order at Amazon.com

May 2004:

Order at Amazon.com

100 Years of Olympic Glory
A World of Athletes in a Century of Competition

In this 1996 release by Turner Home Entertainment you will see a variety of Olympic history divided into unique sets of historical segments. You will learn about Olympic traditions such as the Olympic flag, athlete oath, Olympic motto, torch relay, hymn, Olympic flame, and opening and closing ceremonies. Stories are shared of how Ron Clarke was selected at age 19 to light the official flame in the 1956 games and how Sir Roger Bannister had to break a car window to get his nation’s flag to the opening ceremony on time. Athletes are presented on topics from nationalistic pride, record setting, to those who had the courage to endure hardships. Award winning writer, producer and director Bud Greenspan uses narrator Will Lyman to direct this three hour presentation that is on two VHS tapes. You can own your own copy by purchasing this collection at Amazon.com.

Although many sports such as gymnastics, swimming, diving, and boxing are touched on throughout, it is the track and field athletes, and especially the runners, who play the lead in this production. Here is more information on some of the featured runners:
  • Paavo Nurmi and Lasse Viren, the "Flying Finns". In a thirteen minute segment these two runners are compared and contrasted as outstanding distance runners. Nurmi won nine gold and three silver medals over three Olympiads and it was 36 years before his countryman, Viren, brought back gold medals to Finland. He captured 4 gold medals in two Olympic games as he repeated his 5,000 and 10,000 meter victories from 1972 again in 1976. See interviews and watch portions of the record setting races.
  • Fanny Blankers-Koen, from Holland. It takes six minutes to summarize the four gold medals won by Blankers-Koen in the 1948 London Olympics. See competed in the 100 meters, 80 meter hurdles, 200 meters, and was the anchor on the 4x100 meter relay team. Her husband (he was also her coach) had to convince her to compete after her second gold medal performance. Many do not recall that she also competed in the 1936 games, earning fifth place in both the high jump and short relay event.
  • Alain Mimoun and Emil Zátopek. Fourteen minutes are used in this segment with extensive interviews by Mimoun as he summarizes the competitions from 1948 in London to 1956 in Melbourne. As Zátopek wins repeated gold medals in the distance events, Mimoun is not disappointed with second place awards. Mimoun states: "I was not very angry because I believe in fate." He had to request to run the marathon in 1956 after placing 11th in the 10,000 meters. Then at age 35 in 104 degree heat he ran his first marathon and won the event! Zátopek finished sixth and when greeted by Mimoun at the finish Zátopek said "I am glad for you my friend".
  • Kip Keino. Here you will see how Kip Keino, the first Kenyan to break four minutes in the mile and first world record holder from this country, inspired other athletes to excel from this African country. From the 1500 meter victory in the thin air of Mexico City in 1968 to his 3000 meter steeplechase win in 1972, to his current role teaching the 70 children in his orphanage in Kenya you will see that this athlete believes it when he says "let us leave a mark that people will remember." This segment runs for seven minutes.
  • Valery Borzov, representing the Soviet Union. His accomplishments of 1972 are highlighted in this seven minute segment including his victories in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. He entered the games at age 23 and he had been undefeated for two years prior to the Munich Games. Borzov was the only athlete to win all his heats leading into the 100 meter final and less than twelve hours after that event the games were interrupted by terrorism.
  • Carl Lewis. Eight minutes are used to show Lewis from 1984 to 1992 winning eight gold medals and one silver. He was the first man to win the 100 meters twice and long jump three times. He states during one of his interviews: "You can try anything you can. If you don’t succeed you haven’t failed because you can’t fail in anything you try your hardest."
  • Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde and John Stephen Akhwari. From 1960 to 1968 athletes from Ethiopia won the men’s marathon event. On Bikila’s last attempt he had a broken bone in his foot and countryman Mamo Wolde proved victorious. John Stephen Akhwari, from Tanzania, completed the race last (3:25:17) with a bandaged right leg from a bad fall and stated afterward "My country did not send my 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5000 miles to finish the race." Fittingly, this is the last athlete segment before this tape ends with closing ceremony images since it was first held in a "one nation" style since 1956.

April 2004:

The Supermilers
The 4-Minute Mile and Beyond

No race has captured the imagination of the general public as the race to break the four-minute barrier that occurred during the 1950s. It should be no surprise that the mile run is the only nonmetric distance event that is still officially recognized for world records. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister breaking this historic mark on May 6th, 1954 in Oxford, England, a look at this rare documentary film is in order.

The format of The Supermilers is to show each athlete in action breaking the mile record, provide a brief background of each person, and short interviews about their experiences. Some unique points include Herb Elliott running 36 mile races between 1957-1961, never once being defeated, and he broke the four minute mark on 17 occasions. Elliott stopped racing at age 22 and reported "I stopped at my peak and that is the right time to stop". John Walker reports that "the admiration and publicity of breaking through 50 (3:50 mile barrier) was probably four times more than winning Olympic Gold (1976, 1500m)". The narrator states "that the athlete’s commitment must be total" and Sebastian Coe reinforces this thinking by reflecting that "in 1980, I wanted to win because that was my life". At the end of this film each athlete has the opportunity to predict where the record may advance over the next 15 years. Here are their statements:

  • Roger Bannister (3:59.4): "I think three and a half minutes is conceivable. That is based on physiological principles of how much oxygen the lungs can breath in and blood can transport."
  • John Landy (3:58.0): "I confess completely that in 1954 I could not have conceived the mile being run in 3:47. I would have been prepared to bet very big money that that was impossible. So I don’t intend to make a prediction for the year 2000."
  • Derek Ibbotson (3:57.2): "My standard always was that if you take the world record for 880 yards today and doubled it- beyond that it would be impossible to do it."
  • Herb Elliott (3:54.5): "We still overprotect ourselves. We still stop that last grind, that challenge to death if you like."
  • Peter Snell (3:54.4; 3:54.1): "I could see someone possibly averaging 55 seconds per quarter mile, possibly, in the long long distant future, maybe by the year 2000 and that would correspond to about a 3:40 mile. I really don’t think I will ever see a mile run under 3:40."
  • Michel Jazy (3:53.6): "I think that in 10 year’s time the world record for the mile will be three minutes 43 seconds."
  • Jim Ryun (3:51.3; 3:51.1): "To run faster by the year 2000 we’re gonna have to see some milers who are gonna run very very well at 400 meters, maybe close to a world record pace. And yet they can carry that on out and run 1500 meters/mile world record. They are gonna have to have that kind of versatility."
  • Filbert Bayi (3:51.0): "I think maybe by the year 2000 people are going to be flying."
  • John Walker (3:49.4): "They’re getting stronger, getting bigger, getting faster, they’re becoming more fluent and I think that what will happen is that the athletes will become more scientific."
  • Sebastian Coe (3:49.0; 3:48.53; 3:47.33): "The improvement in the mile will come from the early part of the race, not the latter part. I think the latter part of the race is the matter of maintaining the same kind of speed that you actually launch from the gun."
  • Steve Ovett (3:48.8; 3:48.40): "We will probably find that we will get excited about a record being broken by three minutes and a second in the year 2000. All these things occur and I think it’s fascinating. I’d like to be around to watch it all happen."
  • Steve Cram (3:46.3): "If you are going to look forward to the year 2000; I think 3:40 is a distinct possibility. I mean it’s only, it’s four laps in 55 seconds, which we are not too far away from doing really."
Postscript: Since this film was produced two additional men have lowered the mile mark. Noureddine Morceli ran 3:44.39 on September 12, 1993 in Rieti, Italy and Hicham El Guerrouj improved the standard in Rome, Italy by running 3:43:13 on June 7, 1999 to become the fourteenth mile record holder under the 4 minute mile barrier.


March 2004:

Order at WolverineSports.com

Bill Dellinger’s Track & Field Fundamentals
Distance and Middle Distance
with Bill Dellinger

This is one of the instructional videos that Men’s Track & Field Coach Bill Dellinger produced at the University of Oregon in 1995. This 12 part series has four tapes dedicated to improving running performance (the rest are throwing and jumping focused). Coach Dellinger is the host of this tape and shares his experience as both a coach and Olympic medalist in the 5000 meters to further aid the development of middle and long distance runners. A variety of competition footage is provided by Prime Sports Northwest and collegiate level runners can be seen training and racing on the track as well as in cross country conditions. The focus during the 45 minute presentation is on five primary principles: Moderation, progression, adaptation, variation, and callousing.

Moderation. The ability to reach the big meets healthy and injury free. Rudy Chapa and Alberto Salazar are used as examples to contrast mileage changes due to running technique. It is better to enter the championship under trained than over trained.

Progression. During this five minute discussion charts are used of Matt Davis’ goal of running 13:30 for 5000 meters. By adjusting the date and goal paces, workouts can be tailored for each athlete. Charting progress and changing intervals are the guides to each workout. Steve Prefontaine is used as an example of adjusting goals.

Adaptation. This is described as the "art of coaching". By allowing athletes to succeed, whatever the circumstances, then you will find that "success breeds success". Coach Dellinger reveals personal examples from his training as well as adaptation used leading to a Salazar 10k record attempt.

Variation. This section is extensive, lasting 15 minutes, and goes into detailed explanations of seven types of variation: Intervals, repetitions, fartlek (both unsteady type, Holmer, and steady type, Lydiard), tempo runs, circuit training, hill running, and simulations (cross country starts and finish, 40/30 drills on the track).

Callousing. The basic premise here is that an athlete should not try to do anything in competition that they have not done in training. Examples of running up and down hills and using uneven pacing are illustrated.

This program ends with specific examples of running patterns (21 day cycles at three stages of training), insights into running technique, and program development, including Summer running. If you are a coach that has been looking for other options than just sending your distance runners out for solitary runs then this video may be the answer you have been looking for. Your athletes will welcome the extra attention to detail and their performances will encourage them to strive for the next level of achievement. To own your own copy of this program visit Wolverine Sports.com.

Some quotes from Bill Dellinger:
  • "Having been involved with track over the past 30 years from the high school level, junior college level, and collegiate level, I think really one of the most neglected areas of track and field is with the distance runner."
  • "Give the runners variation; you will find it to be more successful."
  • "It was very clear that interval training was the best method to get into shape in a hurry, if you are in a hurry to get into shape. But, if you were to train nothing but interval training all year long these were the people that at the end of the year had the most injuries, peaked too soon, and could not hold it ... it has to be used very careful and with progression."
  • "This individualizes it for the runner. (It is) very important that each runner is on his own program an you are not setting down one program that everyone has to run to. Make it fit each runner."
  • "One of the things that I have learned over the years is that you cannot instill desire into individuals. What you want to do is present a program that is based on good sound solid principles as a foundation. This is the type of goal you should have for your program."


Order at Sportfilm.com

February 2004:

Order DVD at Sportfilm.com

No Tomorrows
A Film by Ambrose Salmini

Elite road racing. The finest competitors peaking to win the bid for the United States Men’s Olympic Marathon Team. If this type of running interests you then there are two things you can do this month to meet your need. First, visit Sportfilm.com and order your DVD or VHS copy of the 1984 trials and relieve some of America’s greatest athletes competing for the Los Angeles Olympic team. Second, you can get on an airplane for Birmingham, Alabama to watch the February 7th Olympic Marathon Trials that will select the 2004 Athens squad. With the downtown circuit course, as a spectator you can watch top seeded Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflezighi, and Dan Browne race by three times before reaching the finish line.

The 1984 race that is featured in this film starts over the Peace Bridge in Northern New York and is primarily raced on Canadian soil. Tony Reavis provides some of the race commentary for this production as you see the pack roll along conservatively at the beginning. Brief outtakes from other previous performances are shown such as Greg Meyer winning Boston in 1983 (the last American to do so), Bill Rodgers winning the 1979 Boston marathon (his third of his four Boston victories), and Alberto Salazar winning the New York City marathon in 2:09:41 in 1980 (first of three consecutive wins in NY). Race action shows the athletes break and you have to watch to see who sits back and waits and who attempts to real in those who make their move. Many interviews with the favored athletes blend well with the running action and over the last 300 meters individual pride is shown during the sprint for the finish line. Over a dozen runners are shown at the finish as they cross the line and confront their own expectations on this special day.


Some quotes about racing strategy from the participants:
  • "I’ll have to wait and see how the race evolves and I don’t want to be the front runner and pace setter early in the race. I’d like to have some of the other runners do the work early and then hopefully later on, 20/22 miles, then as the pack has thinned out, at that point then make some kind of a move for one of the three spots on the team." ~ Ron Tabb
  • "I see it as a war to the finish. In my mind I’m geared towards running the full course as hard as I possibly can." ~ Greg Meyer
  • "I made a decision before I even started this race that this is the race where I was going to be aggressive." ~ Dave Gordon
  • "I don’t really want to go out with the very fast people. I want to be behind them a ways, try to keep them in sight, and be able to watch them. I think that’s the best way to run a marathon anyway." ~Bill Rodgers
  • "I trained in New Zealand all winter and they have this concept of being right on the day. It doesn’t matter how you do three weeks before or three week after it’s that day of the competition and I just sorta let momentum of moving from the second pack to the first pack carry me..." ~ Pete Pfitzinger
  • "You either make the top three and you go on to the Olympics or you don’t make it and its much more important then any other one race. And so there’s a lot of stress and tension, and a lot of these guys, I think it’s tough, they’re not used to it. I’ve been in that situation so many time. All those races where you are sick to your stomach, the fear, and the tension, and stress that its all today; there is no tomorrow." ~ Alberto Salazar
Postscript: The Los Angeles Olympic Marathon was competed on August 12, 1984, a hot day with the following results: 37 year old Carlos Lopes, representing Portugal, wins the gold medal by running 2:09:21. John Treacy, Ireland, second in 2:09:56 and Charles Spedding of Great Britain ran 2:09:58 for the bronze. Peter Pfitzinger ran 2:13:53 for 11th (he finished in 14th in the ’88 games in Seoul). Alberto Salazar placed 15th in 2:14:19. John Tuttle ended his race after 30K in these games, one of 30 athletes to not finish.

Postscript: 2004 Alan Culpepper 2:11:41, Meb Kelfezighi 2:11:46, Dan Browne 2:12:02. Congratulations on making the team.


Order DVD at Amazon.com

January 2004:

Order DVD at Amazon.com

Tokyo Olympiad

This 1965 film documenting the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad is one of the greatest films that capture Olympic competition. Influenced by Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936), director Kon Ichikawa used a variety of telephoto lenses and slow motion sequences to capture the internal dimensions of the athletes; before, during, and after their events. This DVD is divided into 40 chapters, including the opening and closing ceremony, with many athletic field events (high jump, shot put, pole vault, long jump), as well as other sports such as weightlifting, fencing, boxing, shooting, boating, swimming, vollyball, and gymnastics.

Although some athletes and events are briefly explored (such as Peter Snell winning the 1500 meters), each of the following running events are covered with their own chapter:

Men’s 100m: Watch the first Olympic 100 meter final with 8 participants as 22-year old Bob Hayes, representing the United States, races in the worn cinders of lane one to an Olympic and World Record mark. Over five minutes of footage, much of it in slow motion, is used to capture ten seconds of history.

Men’s 10,000m: Over seven minutes of film is dedicated to what many believe is the greatest upset in Olympic competition. Ron Clarke, the World Record holder in this event, is favored and leads the pack through the first 800 meters in 2:09. The stage is set for this 25 lap challenge and the lead changes multiple times before Billy Mills storms down the homestretch to finish in Olympic Record time of 28:24.4 (his previous best was 29:10).

Women’s 800m: Anne Packer sets an Olympic Record of 2:01:01 (and claims England’s first woman’s track gold medal), yet is not seen during the first lap of this race as it is captured by one long camera shot and she is in 6th place at the bell. The climax of this race down the final straightaway follows the race showing just the leg action of the leaders in slow motion.

Men’s 4x100m relay: Another Olympic Record falls as the first five places all improve upon the previous Olympic mark. Watch the United State’s final handoff from Dick Sebbins to Bob Hayes and then his incredible blast of speed from fifth place to the lead, finishing three yards in front of second place Poland. With his running start, Hayes covers his 100 meters in an incredible 8.6 seconds.

Women’s 80m hurdles: Over six minutes is used in this segment. The women from eight different countries are shown individually preparing for the start of this race. The main race is without sound as many athletes are isolated on screen. The sound of the crowd is introduced at the finish and Beethoven’s Ode To Joy is played over the German national anthem to honor the race winner, Karin Balzer, during the awards ceremony.

Men’s marathon: Nearly 25 minutes, the longest segment in this film, required 59 cameramen to capture this closing Olympic event. Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) is framed by a half million spectators, who lined the highway on this out and back course, as he seeks to be the first man to win consecutive Olympic marathons; even though his appendix was removed just four weeks prior to this event. He is chased by a variety of athletes including Ron Clarke (Australia), James Hogan (Ireland), Ron Hill (England), Antania Ambu (Italy), Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan), Brian Kilby (England), Jozsef Suetoe (Hungry), Leonard Edelen (USA), Vanden Driessche (Belgium), and many others. Watch the men complete this event and greet one another, as well as memorable shots of their feet as they cool down from their ordeal. Ichikawa states in his interview: "All the runners finished the race driven by a sense of purpose. I saw noble and magnificent qualities in each of them."

Special bonus material is included in the Criterion Collection DVD that includes a 32 minute interview with the director, Kon Ichikawa from 1992. Also, use the menu to listen to the exquisitely executed commentary by film scholar and Olympic expert Peter Cowie. He inserts historical perspective to the events and athletes and brings the viewer forward to include Olympic competition through the 2000 Sydney Games. The 40-page book (it’s hardly an insert) that accompanies the DVD discusses the controversy of the artistic value, ability to document events, and the portrayal of Tokyo to the rest of the world. The last six pages lists all the medalists of the 1964 Olympic Games. This film had been edited into a variety of versions in attempt to please various opinions, yet the 170 minute original widescreen edition is the best way to experience this epic film. To see a variety of images used to promote this film visit the Cover Art Page.

To order a copy of this film visit Amazon.com and select either VHS or DVD widescreen version (both are subtitled in English). A listing of nearly two dozen different reviews can be read at Movie Review Query Engine or read an article entitled "The Olympics and the Movies" written by Michael Sragow in 2000 that suggests in the subtitle: "Forget "Chariots of Fire"; here are three unforgettable Olympic documentary looks at the outer limits of human endeavor".


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