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Olympic notebook

Greenspan had a golden touch

Filmmaker focused on stories that inspire

Fast out of the gate, Ted Ligety already has piled up three GS victories. Fast out of the gate, Ted Ligety already has piled up three GS victories. (Olivier Morin/Getty Images)
By John Powers
Globe Staff / December 28, 2010

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Bud Greenspan, who died on Christmas Day at 84 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, was the ultimate Olympic storyteller.

His documentaries, which were up close and personal well before the term was devised, showcased the Olympic spirit at its most inspiring.

Perhaps the most notable was the tale of Tanzanian marathoner John Stephen Akhwari, who limped in last after bloodying himself in a fall at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.

“My country did not send me 7,000 miles away to start the race,’’ Akhwari told Greenspan. “They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.’’

Greenspan, who was 21 when he filed his first Olympic story from a stadium phone booth at the 1948 Games in London, was a familiar fixture around Olympus, his glasses eternally perched atop his bald head.

The Games, he once told ESPN, were two weeks of love, “like Never Never Land.’’ The dark side of the Games — the doping, the politics, the corruption — he left to others. What Greenspan chronicled with his millions of feet of film were the athletes and their back stories, portraying the Olympics at their most human.

Ligety leading He almost surely won’t stay at the top once the speed racers start piling up points but Ted Ligety is leading the World Cup men’s skiing circuit, which resumes with tomorrow’s downhill at Bormio, Italy. His three straight giant slalom victories, last managed by Austria’s Hermann Maier in 2001, put Ligety 6 points up on Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen. Lindsey Vonn, gunning for a fourth consecutive women’s crown, leads Germany’s Maria Riesch by 3 points entering today’s giant slalom in Semmering, Austria . . . What’s the most dangerous sport at the Winter Games? Women’s snowboardcross, where three quarters of the competitors in Vancouver ended up hurt. That’s according to an IOC-funded study that found that at least 11 percent of athletes suffered injuries, most of them to the head, spine, and knees. Even though Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed during a practice run, luge made the list of less-risky sports along with long-track speedskating, curling, Nordic events, and freestyle moguls. More risky were bobsled, ice hockey, short-track, and Alpine skiing. But until the Whistler track is modified to make it slower, the international federation will use the shortened courses there that it adopted at the Games after Kumaritashvili’s death, with the men going from the women’s start and the women from the juniors’.

They know foe Though the US women’s soccer team drew a challenging group for next summer’s World Cup in Germany, their rivals are familiar. It’ll be the fourth straight time that the Americans will meet North Korea and the third straight matchup with Sweden. “This is the best thing that could have happened,’’ said coach Pia Sundhage, whose squad needed to beat Italy in a playoff to qualify after its shocking loss to Mexico in the regionals. “It’s a tough group and that’s exactly what we need.’’ . . . With Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner unbeaten after the first four races, the German women have run their World Cup luge winning streak, which began in 1997, to 102. The last woman to beat them anywhere was US rival Erin Hamlin, who did it at the 2009 world championships at Lake Placid. Hamlin, who has won two bronzes so far, is fourth in the Cup standings, and teammates Ashley Walden of Westborough and Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, are ranked eighth and 10th. Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler, the 36-year-old two-time Olympic and five-time world titlist, is atop the men’s table. Still at it as well is 32-year-old American doubles specialist Christian Niccum, who this month won a bronze with 21-year-old Jayson Terdiman, his sixth partner, 12 years after he’d won his last with Matt McClain. That’s the longest gap between medals in Cup history.

Train keeps rollin’ With the World Cup bobsled circuit leaving the States and heading to Europe for the rest of the season, Olympic champ Steve Holcomb is sitting second in the overall standings behind Germany’s Manuel Machata. With Melrose native Steve Langton pushing, Holcomb piloted his Night Train sled to gold at Lake Placid just before the holiday break. Bree Schaaf is sitting third in the women’s standings behind German perennials Sandra Kiriasis and Cathleen Martini . . . In exchange for agreeing to host the 2012 world bobsled and skeleton championships instead of the pre-Olympic event in 2013, Lake Placid has been awarded World Cup events for both 2013 and 2014. The switch will make for easier travel for the athletes, who’ll be able to go from St. Moritz to Sochi to practice on the 2014 Olympic track . . . Nina Kemppel, the four-time Olympic cross-country skier, and USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean are among the five new members of the US Olympic Committee board, which has been expanded to 15. They’re joined by former John Hancock chief exec James Benson, former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach, and former Visa executive Susanne Lyons.

Tough tickets It’s no coincidence that the highest-priced ticket for the 2012 Olympics in London will be 2,012 pounds ($3,167) for a prime opening ceremonies seat. The marquee events all carry steep price tags for the top levels — 750 pounds for the men’s 100-meter track final and 450 for swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball . . . After her startling victory at the Grand Prix final in Beijing, Alissa Czisny is poised to regain her women’s crown at next month’s US figure skating championships in Greensboro, N.C. “I stayed on my feet, so I was happy,’’ she said after outpointing Italy’s Carolina Kostner to become the first American to win the Grand Prix crown since Sasha Cohen in 2002. Czisny, who finished a shattered 10th at last year’s nationals after winning in 2009, would be the first female to reclaim the crown since Michelle Kwan in 1998 . . . Fifty years after they died in a Brussels plane crash en route to the world championships in Prague, the entire 1961 American figure skating team will be enshrined in the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame next month. Among the inductees will be five competitors with Massachusetts ties — sisters Laurence and Maribel Y. Owen from Winchester (whose mother, Maribel Vinson Owen, also perished), Gregory Kelley from Newton, Bradley Lord from Swampscott, and Harvard grad Dudley Richards. The team is remembered in “Indelible Tracings’’, a newly published book by former skater Patricia Shelley Bushman, and will be commemorated in “Rise’’, US Figure Skating’s film tribute that will be released in February . . . Olympic champions Ralph Craig, Roy Cochran, and Jearl Miles Clark were joined by Dyrol Burleson and journalist Jim Dunaway as the newest members of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. Craig won both the 100 (after three false starts) and 200 at the 1912 Games and Cochran the 400 hurdles and a relay gold in 1948. Miles Clark, who made five Olympic teams, won a relay gold in 1996. Burleson made the 1,500-meter finals in 1960 and 1964 and Dunaway has covered every Summer Games since 1956.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com; material from Olympic committees and sports federations was used.